Sunday 19 November 2017

Fota Island can be the perfect arena for Rory to showcase talents

Rory McIlroy in relaxed mood yesterday playing with his father Gerry during the pro-am event prior to this week's Irish Open at Fota Island. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy in relaxed mood yesterday playing with his father Gerry during the pro-am event prior to this week's Irish Open at Fota Island. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Freed from the straitjacket of playing Pinehurst No 2 during last week's US Open, Rory McIlroy is expected to cut loose on the lush fairways and greens of Fota Island this week and perform up to expectations at his national championship.

McIlroy struggled to contain his naturally aggressive instincts at Pinehurst, leaving him in a tie for 28th, despite a virtuoso display of ball-striking.

But there'll be no such constraints on the 25-year-old on a Deerpark Course which fits his game virtually to a tee.

It's not by coincidence that in yesterday's pro-am, McIlroy romped to an 'estimated' 63 which featured seven birdies and climaxed with a tap-in eagle at 18.

As opening gambits go, that was a mightily impressive first round at Fota by a player whose Nike clubs, which had been lost in transit from Newark to Dublin on Sunday night finally turned up yesterday morning.

Several others who endured last weekend's rigours on one of the most attractive but demanding courses in US Open history will also enjoy an opportunity to open their shoulders this week and go for flags with impunity.


This phenomenon was well explained by Graeme McDowell, who finished a shot behind his fellow Ulsterman at Pinehurst.

"There is that little decompression after a Major, especially one as intense at last week," said the Portrush native.

"No doubt it feels nice to be decompressing and relaxing here. You do feel like you're playing a bit looser this week. You look around these putting surfaces and there's not a lot of trouble around them.

"You feel like your iron play all of a sudden changes back to aggressive mode again." Added McDowell, who made his Irish Open debut at Fota in 2002 in his second professional event and "definitely was still the rabbit in the headlights a little bit".

"I don't have a lot of memories about the golf course but was pleasantly surprised how picturesque the place is and how good the course played," he explained.

"There are a lot of tough tee shots out there and the rough is thick so there's a real premium on accuracy off the tee. It's long in places but you do get medium and short irons in your hand at times. It's really a course you can score on."

Marcel Siem, who shared 11th place, 12 shots behind his fellow German and runaway winner Martin Kaymer last Sunday, is one who could capitalise come Sunday, or Maybe Shiv Kapur, who tied with McIlroy.

No doubt, Shane Lowry will also be mentally sharper for his visit to the US Open, even if he did miss the cut, especially as memories of chasing McIlroy down the stretch in the BMW PGA at Wentworth are still fresh for the Clara man.

Lowry and Padraig Harrington, who tees it up with McIlory and Scot Stephen Gallacher in the first two rounds, have the advantage of recent victories at the Irish Open, an advantage none of their 25 other compatriots in this field enjoy.

McIlroy's own record at the Irish Open is not impressive, just two top-10s, seventh place in the Irish Open at Adare Manor in 2008 and 10th place in Portrush two years, while he missed cut at Carton last June.

"In a way, I that whole period last year wasn't very good for me. I didn't play well from the Irish Open through to the Open Championship," he said.

"I wasn't playing my best, but obviously feel like I'm coming in here with a nice bit of form. My game's in much better shape."

McIlroy admits he didn't embrace well the added pressure and attention which focuses on the leading home players at the Irish Open, adding: "I used to view it as a bit of a hindrance but now I am trying to welcome it and take it on board a little bit."

One suspects his game is good enough at present to pick up his second European Tour title in just over a month and bring to a climax a week which opened with Royal Portrush being confirmed as a future Open venue. These are great days for the Ulstermen.

Irish Independent

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