McIlroy warms up for repeat of record-breaking summer
If Rory McIlroy's rivals are heading to Chambers Bay with a sense of foreboding at the challenge awaiting, then the world No 1 has even more bad news. He believes he is about to hit the heights of last year, when he blew the golf world apart.
McIlroy (right) arrived in Seattle last Friday night and, after his first taste of the controversial US Open layout, will spend the next four days meticulously plotting a route to his fifth Major.
Having stopped off at Whistling Straits, host course of the USPGA in August, McIlroy described himself as being in "top form" and fully recovered from what he believes was the "blip" of two missed cuts at Wentworth and Royal County Down.
"My game's in great shape. I took a whole week off after the Irish Open there a few weeks back and now this week I've had a good few days of practice back home in Florida," McIlroy said. "I feel like I can have a summer not too dissimilar to last year."
Of course, the hot months of 2014 were lit up by McIlroy winning two Majors, as well as a WGC title, and contemporaries such as Rickie Fowler wondered if anybody in history had ever played better in such a spell.
But that triple glory seemed a long time ago last month when McIlroy exited the BMW PGA Championship on the Friday and then did the same at his national championship the following week, courtesy of an 80.
McIlroy, however, is unconcerned at that freaky fortnight, pointing to the fact that not only had he played the prior three weeks in the US, but that he had also won two of those events, the first of which happened to be the exhausting WGC Match Play.
"Personally, I didn't really look much into what happened at those last two events," he said. "I think I can put them down to a little bit of fatigue. I'd played five weeks in a row, had won twice, and mentally was ready to have a break and just get away from it.
"That's why I didn't touch a club for seven days after County Down. I needed that."
McIlroy (above) has been paired with his Ryder Cup partner, Martin Kaymer, and the defending champion will be one of the chief threats. But it is Jordan Spieth, the Masters winner, who is closest to McIlroy in the betting .
Little wonder, seeing as the 21-year-old has only finished outside the top three times in his past 10 events, including a 65 at the Memorial last Sunday.
Another factor in his favour might be that Spieth is one of only 11 in the field who has played competitively at Chambers Bay.
However, his experience at the 2010 US Amateur Championship was not enjoyable. Spieth shot 83 and failed to advance to the match play section.
Spieth was only 16 at the time and now possesses the course-management skills which could prove so vital.
The same can be said about Justin Rose, who was described by Nick Faldo last week as "the most professional of all the professionals out there".
The Englishman has racked up a win and a second since finishing runner-up to Spieth at Augusta and is certainly not lacking confidence. "I am in the form of my life at the moment," he said.
Phil Mickelson's bid to finally win a US Open title, after six times being a runner-up, and become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam is sure to be one of the week's main storylines.
Yet every narrative will have to take a back seat early on as we see whether Tiger Woods can make the cut.
Having shot an 85 at the Memorial, that is the most he and his fans can hope for. Avoiding humiliation is the peak of Woods's ambition at the moment.
Much interest will also focus on 18-year-old Sam Horsfield, who arrives at the US Open having been described by his illustrious mentor Ian Poulter as the best young player he has ever seen.
Where professionals of the calibre of Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink failed, Horsfield came through the 36-hole torture otherwise known as US Open qualifying and so will become the youngest British male to play in an American Major.
Meanwhile, England's Chris Wood came from five shots down to claim victory in the Lyoness Open at Atzenbrugg and secure a second European Tour title. The 27-year-old Bristol golfer carded a superb five-under-par final round of 67 as overnight leader Frenchman Gregory Bourdy collapsed and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain also faltered over the turn at the Diamond CC.
Wood picked up five birdies to put pressure on the leaders as Bourdy, in complete contrast to the first three days, produced a horrible six-over-par round, while Cabrera-Bello finished level for the day as the Englishman recorded a two-stroke victory at 15-under.
Peter Lawrie finished in a tie for 20th on five-under after closing with a 70, while Robert Rock produced the best closing round of six-under par to shoot up the leaderboard for a share of third place, which would have been better but for a bogey on the 14th. Compatriots Robert Dinwiddie and Matthew Fitzpatrick also finished on 10-under.
Bourdy ended tied sixth following his 78, a final round which swiftly went downhill after a birdie on the first was followed by a double-bogey on the second and three more dropped shots on the back nine.
Argentina's Fabian Gomez carded a final round 66 for a 13-under total to claim the Fedex St Jude Classic by four shots from England's Greg Owen.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)