| 15.6°C Dublin

Rory McIlroy ready for huge effort to banish Irish Open gremlins


Rory McIlroy hits a drive from the 18th tee box, watched by caddie JP Fitzgerald and coach John Bannon, at Royal County Down yesterday (Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE)

Rory McIlroy hits a drive from the 18th tee box, watched by caddie JP Fitzgerald and coach John Bannon, at Royal County Down yesterday (Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE)


Rory McIlroy hits a drive from the 18th tee box, watched by caddie JP Fitzgerald and coach John Bannon, at Royal County Down yesterday (Oliver McVeigh/SPORTSFILE)

The flame of passion burns brightly within Rory McIlroy as he tunes up for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down.

His aim: to deliver a performance worthy of his status as officially the best golfer on the planet this week.

Nobody needs to tell the world No 1 that his record in the tournament leaves much to be desired - not least by himself.

In the last five years, McIlroy has missed the cut twice (2013 and 2014), finished joint 10th in 2012, and 34th and 35th respectively in 2011 and 2010.

This is not a sequence of form that sits easily with him, and this week of all weeks is the time to put that right.

As host, via the Rory McIlroy Foundation, he has been central in attracting a world-class field to playing one of his favourite courses.

Ironically, the level of competition ups the ante for McIlroy as a host of world stars get ready to rumble and burst his bubble - if they can.

Therein lies the motivation to ignite his Irish Open 'career'.

"I haven't really played well in the Irish Open and that's something that hasn't sat well with me for a few years.

"I think it's to do with maybe trying too hard when you get back home and you maybe push yourself too much. I'm just going to try and enjoy myself this year and relish the opportunity to play at home. It would be great to win obviously and I'll be trying my best out there," he said.

McIlroy's recent form in winning the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, finishing eighth in The Players at Sawgrass, and then his triumph in the Wells Fargo Championship has brought his level of performance to new heights.

A missed cut in Wentworth on Friday at the BMW PGA Championship was a blip, but understandable, given the mental and physical toll of the last few weeks in the USA.

Indeed, the player and many followers believe it has been a blessing in disguise to help him adjust his sights for a memorable home visit.

"I haven't been as excited for a golf tournament this year, apart from the Masters for obvious reasons.

"Royal County Down is probably rated as one of the top five golf courses in the world and with all the players - Rickie Fowler coming off the back of his win at the Players, Sergio Garcia who was in that play-off, Ernie Els, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, myself and so many other good players coming - it'll be great," he said.

There are no worries in the player's mind that off-course activities and commitments could detract from his concentration on the main objective.

"I feel like I've found a nice balance between what I'm doing on the course and what I'm doing off the course.

"There are a lot of obligations, but that shouldn't get in the way of me going out there and playing good golf.


"Hosting the event with my foundation gave me an incentive to go back. I'm not doing it for myself, I wanted to do something to help, and I think that if my performance and my involvement in the Irish Open can help other people, that would be great and that's the reason I wanted to do it.

"I'm delighted that we're going to raise a lot of money for a lot of kids who need it so that will add to what will be a great week," he said.

McIlroy did some practice on the course on Sunday and early yesterday to tune into the demands of this internationally renowned links experience.

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry had one of the happiest withdrawals of his career when he pulled out of the US Open qualifying which was played at Walton Heath yesterday.

Lowry's joint sixth finish in the BMW Championship at Wentworth elevated him to 50th place in the world rankings, and earned him the right to tee it up in the US Open at Chambers Bay from June 18-21.

This will be the third US Open appearance of Lowry's career.

If he had not gained automatic exemption, the man from Clara would have felt too disappointed in his Wentworth result to go to Walton Heath anyway, but now he arrives at Royal County Down in good fettle.

"I felt I would have been incredibly unlucky, and that's not a feeling I would want to be taking to something such as important as teeing up at Walton Heath.

"It's just so pleasing not to have any bogeys over the past three rounds, and it's also nice to get myself back up to the top of a leaderboard again since finishing so close (at Wentworth) last year.

"So I am just happy now to be going into an Irish Open showing a bit of form and hopefully I can do something special there," he said.

Irish Independent