Sport Golf

Sunday 22 October 2017

'Confident' McIlroy getting ready to sizzle

‘No panic’ for world No 2 ahead of latest Major tilt

McIlroy has been at the rolling Wisconsin venue since Friday bidding to make up for lost time after a month on the sidelines. Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
McIlroy has been at the rolling Wisconsin venue since Friday bidding to make up for lost time after a month on the sidelines. Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Dunne during yesterday’s practice round at Erin Hills ahead of the US Open. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy has dismissed fears that he is "undercooked" for his US Open challenge and says he's ready to sizzle at Erin Hills and use his driver like a weapon of mass destruction.

Appalled to hear that the USGA grounds staff was out with the strimmers cutting down the heaviest patches of fescue, the world No 2 is still confident he can end his near three-year Major famine.

Forced to miss six events this year after suffering a stress fracture to his ribs in January, McIlroy (right) has been at the rolling Wisconsin venue since Friday bidding to make up for lost time after a month on the sidelines.

Asked if he was "undercooked like a dangerous piece of pink chicken" or more like a juicy, rare streak, ready to be savoured, the world No 2 could only smile.

"Hopefully the latter, not the former," McIlroy said with a huge grin. "I feel good. From what I see out on the golf course and how I am hitting the golf ball, I feel as confident as I have ever done going into a Major apart from 2011.

"I don't feel like my body is limiting me in any way so I can go out there and hopefully freewheel it.

"There might be a little less expectation on me this week too, so hopefully I can go out there and play freely, go at pins and attack.

"I think this golf course allows you to do that and that's the way I like to play. Hopefully that works in my favour."

McIlroy is a specialist in winning Majors on rain-softened venues, famously romping to an eight-stroke maiden Major win with a record low score in the US Open at Congressional six years ago.

He also won by eight strokes at a soft Kiawah Island in the 2012 US PGA before grinding out Major No 4 at a soggy Valhalla to lift the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time in 2014, three weeks after capturing the Claret Jug. Since then he's winless in his last nine majors but he insists it's not a streak that's causing him sleepless nights just yet, pointing out that both Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus both went 10 Majors or more without adding to their tallies.

"I don't think I need to force it at all," he said. "If I stay patient and stick to the process and the game-plan, preparing the way I should and doing the right things, it will come.

"There were times in Jack and Tiger's careers where they went three years without winning a Major. There isn't any panic setting in yet but it would be nice to get my name on another Major pretty soon."

McIlroy's Major wins have one thing in common - he got off to fast starts in all four and was near the top of the leaderboard from day one.

But since he won at Valhalla, he's managed just one opening round in the 60s and there are question marks over this week given his four-week lay-off and the news that he's added the new TaylorMade Spider Red putter to his bag.

"It's imperative for me to get off to a good start, I feel like, and I haven't been able to do that," he confessed. "I don't know if that's putting a little too much pressure on myself or what.

"There was a period there, in sort of '10 and '11, and obviously '14, as well, but '10 and '11 where I would start Majors very well, and it's just a matter of figuring out why that was."

He concluded that good preparation is certainly a key and that's why he arrived early in Wisconsin to form an aggressive game-plan for a course that measures close to 7,800 yards from the tips.

"Driver and putter are going to be the two big weapons this week," he said, adding: "I don't think it's a secret that I feel like my driver is one of my biggest weapons in my bag.

"If I can get that in my hands more regularly, and I think if the field has to hit driver more, as well, that plays into my hands, too.

Sleepless

"I wasn't crying when I saw that rain last night and this morning. It's a long golf course and it's only going to play longer. That benefits a few guys, and luckily I'm one of them."

Told that the USGA were cutting back the heaviest patches of fescue in the landing areas at the fourth, 12th, 14th and 18th, he was incredulous.

"Really? We have 60 yards from left line to right line. You've got 156 of the best players in the world here. If we can't hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.

"These are the widest fairways we've ever played in a US Open. Even the first and second cut is another ten yards on top of that. So if you've got 50 or 60 yards to hit into and you're complaining about the fescue that's wider than that, I don't think that's an issue."

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