Bullish McIlroy vows to 'attack the golf course'
RORY McILROY is the poster boy of this week's US Open at Olympic. His image stares back at you from so many news-stands, freeway billboards and TV newscasts around San Francisco this week, it's almost possible to think that 'Tiger Mania' is a thing of the past. Think again!
Without doubt, McIlroy's defence of the title he won in sensational, record-breaking fashion at Congressional 12 months ago is compelling ... especially given the youngster's pledge yesterday to attack the Lake Course at every reasonable opportunity.
If a 'sleeping Tiger' reawakens as a Major champion next Sunday, however, the seismic effect on golf would rival that of the San Andreas Fault, which runs under the first and second fairways here at Olympic.
One has to go back to 2008 to find the most recent of Tiger's 14 Major victories in the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, San Diego. Woods has been hobbled by such a cataclysmic series of issues and injuries in the intervening four years, it feels like a lifetime since he simply had to turn up at Major championship venues to make every other player in the field check out the prize for second place.
Tiger is unlikely ever again to exercise such intimidation over his opponents. Yet the personal ring of confidence which used surround him has been restored in San Francisco, largely on the back of his recent victory at Memorial.
The Woods of old emerged from the trees at Muirfield Village as he equalled Jack Nicklaus' haul of 73 US PGA Tour titles. Though much attention will focus on the top three players in the world rankings, Luke Donald, McIlroy and Lee Westwood, in tomorrow's first round, the real show group will be that of Woods, Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Tiger dispelled some clouds of doubt in March by securing his first PGA Tour win in nearly three years at Bay Hill, and his swashbuckling performance at Jack's place last Sunday week, exemplified by an astonishing chip-in birdie at 16, showed he's capable once again of achieving the impossible.
While McIlroy takes on a 'Mission Improbable' this week -- Curtis Strange in 1988 and '89 is the only player in the modern era to successfully defend the US Open title -- Woods has been wreathed in confident smiles at Olympic. "It's not easy to do," Woods said of the daunting task facing the young Irishman. "The US Open is probably the hardest test that we play all year. It's such a big test and such a big grind.
"What makes it difficult, I think, is that we're playing different venues every year. It's not like Augusta National where we're playing the same golf course each April. I'm excited about playing and excited about this golf course. I played a lot here in college and it's great to be back."
Patience and precision are believed to be two most precious qualities around Olympic, where McIlroy's effortless length and his usual towering draw is expected to be of less use than usual.
"There are a lot of holes where you have to shape the ball left to right off the tee," McIlroy agreed. Yet he expressed confidence in his ability to play those shots and delight at the surprising number of opportunities he found in practice to turn defence into offence.
"I'm coming with the mindset where I'm going to attack the golf course and play aggressively when I can," he said. "There are a few holes where you have to settle for par. But it still gives you a few opportunities when you can make birdies."
Mclroy's morale was already high after drawing a line under a recent string of three missed cuts with Sunday's seventh place in Memphis but his eyes shone at the prospect of going out with all guns blazing this week.
It could be all academic, however, should the Tiger of old re-emerge this week.