Upbeat Rory ready to 'pull it all together'
RORY McILROY would like nothing better in his spare time this week than to drive to downtown Philadelphia and run up the world-famous 72 'Rocky Steps' at the city's Museum of Modern Art.
Which is fitting, given McIlroy's belief that he's a contender for a second US Open title and third Major victory in all on Merion's rain-doused East Course.
The golfing world is enthralled at the prospect of McIlroy (24) teeing it up with Tiger Woods and recent Masters champion Adam Scott in the show group tomorrow.
Yet there's every chance of McIlroy and his pal from Portrush, Graeme McDowell, slugging it out for glory as the final bell approaches.
At his pomp, McIlroy's probably the most polished golfer on earth, so McDowell, a formidable fighter who never knows when he's beaten, probably is a better fit for the Rocky Balboa role.
Yet the record of these two Ulstermen at recent US Opens suggests either could have his arm raised come Sunday ... or Monday, if, as feared, thunderstorms and heavy rain return to wreak further havoc on this tournament.
McDowell famously prevailed in dry and fast conditions at Pebble Beach in the 2010 US Open, where McIlroy missed the cut.
Then Wee-Mac romped to a record-shattering first Major success at Congressional the following summer, when he carved up a formidable course softened by persistent precipitation.
Last June, G-Mac was eclipsed only by winner Webb Simpson at Olympic as McIlroy once again found a bone-hard West Coast venue to be a personal bone-yard.
No doubt, the five-plus inches of rain that fell in recent days boosted McIlroy's prospects. "When I played it last week, the course was pretty receptive and I thought if it could stay like that, it'd be perfect.
"Yet the rain is probably going to make it play into my hands a little bit more, which obviously is a good thing."
"I did pretty well in my first US Open at Bethpage (shared 10th) and that was pretty soft.
"Then I played at Congressional and won there. So, hopefully, that form line will continue and I'll be able to play well this week."
Despite six months of under-achievement, in which he admits he grappled with the great expectations of himself and others and endured a few teething troubles with his new Nike equipment, McIlroy insists he's playing well right now.
"I've been seeing a lot of positive signs in my game in the last few weeks," he insisted. "It feels pretty close. I'm driving it well; my iron play has been great and I'm putting quite well.
"I just need to pull it all together and play that one full round really well and get myself off on a run," insisted McIlroy, adding that the key to success this week will be keeping his ball in the fairway.
Nobody's driven the ball better this year than McDowell, leader in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour stats and a recent two-time winner at RBC Heritage in Hilton Head and the Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria.
Defending champion Simpson expects plenty of birdie chances this week with players likely to hit wedge into nine of the first 13 holes.
However, McDowell believes that Merion, even wet, will play more difficult than many expect, giving him an opportunity to hang tough down one of the most punishing finishing stretches in golf and maybe even land a knockout blow.