Rory McIlroy will be hoping to make some history at The Open this week as he looks to become the second consecutive Northern Irish winner at Royal St George’s after Darren Clarke.
Clarke lifted the Claret Jug ten years ago at the Kent course after he triumphed by three shots to claim his only major victory at 42 years of age. Ahead of The Open, Clarke had dropped to 111th in the world rankings and he credited his upturn in form to a chat with American golf psychologist Bob Rotella which helped to sort out troubles with his putting stroke.
McIlroy has already worked with Rotella before and he has been working with him again as he looks to lift the second Claret Jug of his career, seven years on from his first at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. It also marks seven years since the Ulsterman won the last of his four major titles so he will be determined to end his drought and snatch a fifth this week.
The 32-year-old has insisted he will not make the same mistakes he made at Portrush two years ago as he admitted his preparation was not right back then. He never recovered from starting his home Open with a quadruple-bogey eight, with his first drive going out of bounds, and despite bettering his first-round 79 with a fantastic 65, he missed the cut by a single stroke.
McIlroy reveals he did not handle the situation or the pressure well in front of his own fans but it is a lesson learned as he heads to Royal St George’s after last year’s event was postponed.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said, “There is a lot to that in terms of I didn’t quite approach Portrush the right way in terms of preparing myself to play in that atmosphere in front of those people.”
“It was almost as if once that first round was out of the way I was unburdened because I was like ‘I can’t win from here’ and then I go out and shoot 65 on the second day.
“It’s trying to feel on the first day how I felt on the second day, I think that’s the key. That’s just unburdening yourself. There are certain things you can do, mental exercises, to get into that frame of mind but in Portrush that week I certainly didn’t do a good enough job and I learned from that and it is something I’ve obviously tried to improve on since.”
The world number 11 has had extra time for practice and recovery after missing the cut at the Aberdeen Scottish Open.
In his previous appearance he was tied seventh in the US Open, his second top-10 in this year’s majors after a joint-fifth at the Masters – having finished 49th in the US PGA Championship in May. McIlroy’s Open record that preceded his Portrush disappointment saw him post a victory, second, fourth and fifth in his previous four appearances.
There is a sense that another Claret Jug is well overdue but McIlroy does not like to be marked as just talented and he wants people to know how much work he puts into his game.
“I don’t like the ‘talented’ tag because it suggests if you are naturally talented you don’t work hard or practice.
“All talent is in the hard work you have put in over the years. There is no-one in the world of golf who has hit more golf balls than I have.
“I’ve been playing golf since I was two years old so the naturally-talented thing irks me as it gives off the impression I am lazy and don’t work as hard, which is obviously not the case at all.
“I get where people are coming from but there is a lot more to it than natural ability and talent and everyone out here will tell you the same thing.”
McIlroy will be hoping to prove this to his critics later this week as he chases victory at the Open Championship for the second time in his career.