Monday 21 October 2019

McIlroy drawing on home comforts for Open challenge

Rory McIlroy. Photo: AP
Rory McIlroy. Photo: AP

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy was pleasantly surprised to feel right at home at Royal Portrush after reacquainting himself with the venue for next week's Open Championship.

McIlroy set the course record at Portrush with a 61 in the North of Ireland Championship as a 16-year-old, although the layout has since been changed.

McIlroy and Portrush native Graeme McDowell will be the centre of attention on home soil, but the Holywood star is also taking great confidence from his recent Open record as he tries to lift the Claret Jug for a second time and end a five-year Major drought.

"It's the same golf course I've grown up playing my whole life, and it's the same tournament that I haven't finished outside the top five for the last few years," McIlroy said.

"They are two pretty good factors and I just need to keep reminding myself of that I guess. It's the same golf tournament and it's the same golf course."

Large grandstands have been erected to house some of the 43,750 spectators who will attend each championship day, but the 2014 winner still felt at home on the Antrim links.

"I expected it to feel different than it did. It still just feels like Portrush to me," McIlroy said of his practice round on Saturday.

"Yes the stands are up and it looks fantastic, but it's still the same golf course. I haven't played it much over the last few years. We played the Irish Open there in 2012. I played the new holes in 2017 and played 18 holes in October."

“When I got on the first tee, everything sort of started coming back to me; on the second tee, I aim it at the brown house. It felt like just the same old golf course that I grew up playing and it was nice.”

McIlroy opted against competing in the Irish Open last week in favour of contesting the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club, which starts today, and insists he is not simply preparing for Portrush.

“I think it’s a little disrespectful when people come in and they are treating it as a warm-up. I think most tournaments deserve to stand on their own two feet and have some stature, and the Scottish Open is one of these events on the European Tour.

“It’s a big event. A lot of prize money, a lot of points. So it deserves to stand-alone.”

 McIlroy is joined in the field by Paul Dunne, McDowell and American duo Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.

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