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McIlroy seeks fight in Irish

RORY McILROY wants his nose to be bloodied and to climb off the canvas. And in that sense the wet and windy environs of the course where his fame erupted is the perfect place for him these forthcoming days.

The 23-year-old is nothing but honest. McIlroy goes where other pros refuse to tread. When asked at the Irish Open in Portrush yesterday whether he had to learn to dig deep, the world No2 stepped into the confessional.

"Definitely in the past if things haven't gone my way, the fight goes out of me pretty quickly," he said. "That's something I am working on and trying to get better at."

It was an extraordinary admission from McIlroy. No doubt these last few weeks he has embarked on some soul-searching after four missed cuts in five events, the last of which came at the US Open 10 days ago.

McIlroy wants his mojo back and today's first round at Royal Portrush is not the worst place for him to go looking.

He was 16 when he shot a 61 in the North of Ireland qualifier. He did not throw the towel in then after yanking a six-footer on the first. Instead, he took a flannel to the course record board and the rumbles were heard at St Andrews, where the 2005 Open was taking place.

"I remember being there and being told about this upstart's 61 and going, 'Wow, okay, this kid is special," said Graeme McDowell, who, having lived in Portrush all his life, revealed his lowest score was a 63. "That round was part of the reason the course has been modernised. They have 'Rory-proofed' this place."

"It's a different course now," said McIlroy. Indeed, it is. There weren't 27,000 screaming golf fanatics lining the fairways, like there will be for this, the first top-flight professional men's tournament in Northern Ireland in 59 years. This will be one of the most remarkable Thursdays in this or any other European Tour season.

As well as two US Open champions in McDowell and McIlroy there is another Northern Ireland major winner in Darren Clarke. And Padraig Harrington, who got the Irish ball rolling with three majors in two years. This will not just be a golf tournament but a parade of Ireland's golfing heroes.

But there is a rather historic trophy on offer and, just as pertinently for McIlroy, a chance to test his fortitude. At a gale-swept Sandwich 12 months ago, he was pilloried for wondering if he might have to wait for a wind-free Open before he could lift the Claret Jug.

"I want to try to become a better wind player, a better bad-weather player. And the only way to do that is by playing in it. So it would be nice if we do have bad weather here, as the forecast indicates, and I do play well. It would give me confidence going into The Open."