Thursday 20 June 2019

McIlroy looks to buck worrying trend and 'pathetic' run by racing out of the traps

Rory McIlroy insists the USGA must up their game in Monterey. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy insists the USGA must up their game in Monterey. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy might not be the most patient golfer in the world but that might not matter if he can buck a worrying trend and get off to a fast start in the US Open at Pebble Beach today.

The Co Down man (30) has won all four of his Major titles after stunning starts - a 65 in the US Open at Congressional in 2011, a 67 in the 2012 US PGA, and 66s in the opening rounds of The Open Championship and the US PGA in 2014.

Since then he's gone 17 Majors without success and having broken 70 in just three of those opening rounds, he knows his 2019 US Open destiny could rest on what he does today.

"I had a chat with Johnny Miller at the champions' reunion on Wednesday night, which was a lot of fun," a relaxed McIlroy said last night.

"And Johnny said, 'you look at the history of Major championships, that first round is so important'.

"I said, I know. My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year just sort of put me a little bit behind the eight ball.

"And it's hard to catch up, especially as Major championships are played on the toughest courses, and you start to chase on those really tough courses, it's hard to do that.

"I think the Majors that I've won, I've started every single one of them really well, runs in sort of the mid-60s, and I think that's sort of what's held me back a little bit.

"If I can take that freedom that I played with on Saturday and Sunday last week and put that into tomorrow and play with that sort of freedom and get off to a good start, I'll be, hopefully, right in the tournament from the get-go and stay there."

McIlroy's first-round blues have been a habit in recent years - especially at the US Open.

After a 77 at Oakmont in 2016, he shot 78 at Erin Hills in 2017 and 80 at Shinnecock Hills last year en route to a hat-trick of missed cuts.

He's described his record in the blue-riband American championship as "pathetic" but he arrives at Pebble Beach with his confidence sky-high after closing with a 61 to win the Canadian Open by seven strokes last weekend.

He finished on 21-under par there and while this week's set-up will require a different kind of discipline, McIlroy's biggest rival is not Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson, but himself.

This will be a test, not just of his mental faculties and his course management, but his prowess with the short clubs.

With the course measuring just over 7,000 yards, he's played two events with four wedges in his bag and removed his three-iron to better prepare for this week.

"There's so many approach shots, if you do drive it well, between 130 and 150 yards," he said.

"And if I've learned one thing about the US Open over all these years, it's that your distance control has to be spot on.

"That was the reason for putting that extra wedge in. And I got a nice bit of practice with it last week, and I'm feeling good about the set-up.

"I don't have a three-iron in my bag. I strengthened my four-iron by a degree. It goes just a touch further than it usually does. But there are holes out here that I'll hit that off the tee as well.

"This week is all about patience and just giving yourself looks and chances, playing from the fairway.

"I think if you go out and you try to overpower this golf course at all, it can bite you pretty quickly."

That said, he sees a low score out there and therein lies a temptation to allow frustration to creep in.

"I think it's just patience, knowing that pars are never going to be a bad score at a US Open," he added.

"But, at the same time, you look at this golf course and you've got wedge into one, wedge into three, wedge into four, the par-five sixth, the seventh hole is 110 yards.

"You've got so many wedges and opportunities to make birdies. You're not going to go chase every pin, but at the same time this course does offer you opportunities to make birdies.

"I think sometimes, if you are playing well, you don't need to settle for pars, you can go out there and get after it."

He tees off at 3.41pm Irish time with Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm, looking to start the Major ball rolling early for a change.

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