Ballyliffin putting woes tune Rory up for Open tilt

Rory McIlroy is confident he has fixed the putting problems that sank his Irish Open hopes a fortnight ago as he launches his bid for a fifth major title of his career in Scotland this week.

The 2014 Open champion was an early starter at Carnoustie for yesterday’s practice ahead of the 147th edition of golf’s oldest professional championship, the first out at 7am on the famous links where he won the Silver Medal as low amateur.

And while his return to the Angus coastline brought back pleasant memories of that early triumph, the 29-year-old was equally pleased with his acclimatisation to the slower links greens which had caught him out at Ballyliffin when he hosted the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open but could only finish in a tie for 28th in Donegal.

Missed putts, nine of them between 3ft and 10ft, prevented him from challenging on home soil in a tournament won after a play-off by Russell Knox thanks to two monster putts at the 18th on the final day. Yet with advice from putting coach Brad Faxon, including a reminder that his body language on greens could be much better, and more exposure to links golf in the past week during practice session in Ireland between visits to the All England Lawn Tennis Club to watch Wimbledon, McIlroy will tee off at Carnoustie on Thursday in more confident mood than he was in after three rounds at Ballyliffin.

“I feel good. It was just an adjustment in speed, going from greens that were 13-14 on the Stimpmeter in the US, to these greens, at 10.5,” McIlroy said yesterday after playing 18 holes in the company of Spain’s Jon Rahm.

Playing the Irish Open and getting some golf in on links courses at home the past few days have been helpful. I’ve been working on a few things. I feel like it’s good. I don’t feel like I have to put myself under any pressure. If I get out of my way and let it happen, hopefully it will.

Speaking just after his practice round, McIlroy agreed with Pádraig Harrington’s assessment that Carnoustie’s par-four 18th hole was the hardest finishing hole in golf.

“It is, into the wind, today not to so much,” he told UTV.

If it blows, you’ve a bunker on the right, out of bounds left and the burn in front….not that I want to have those thoughts come Sunday. The finishing three holes are tough, 16, 17, and 18. If you get out in even par there, you’re doing well.

McIlroy was 18 when he landed the R&A’s Silver Medal at Carnoustie 11 years ago, the same year Harrington won the first of his back-to-back Opens for a unique Irish double in the oldest major. The world number eight said: “Good memories even if the place looks a bit different now. Everything seems a lot bigger, especially the grandstands.”

McIlroy’s 2014 win at Hoylake was his third major victory, the fourth and most recent coming at the next opportunity, the following month at Valhalla in the PGA Championship. At Ballyliffin earlier this month he said he would not lose sleep if he did not add to his haul but yesterday received backing from Harrington that there was plenty of time left in his career to make good on his talents and reach double figures.

Pointing out that more players in the current era are capable of winning the big four titles than even back in 2011 when McIlroy won his first at the US Open, three-time major champion Harrington said: “The beauty for Rory is he’s still very young, he’s still very capable, and with patience those majors will come.

If we look at history, when you start in the modern era, start trying to get to seven, eight majors, nine majors, let alone getting up to 14 and 18 majors, it took 20 years for Jack (Nicklaus) to get 18 majors. And for the eights and the nines there with (Tom) Watson and (Gary) Player, you’ll find it took 20 years too, certainly 15 years. And you’re judging Rory over seven years. Give him another seven years and see if he’s got eight in the bag. Are we disappointed with that then?

“There’s no doubt at four you want Rory to have more majors, but in the scheme of things, even in Tiger’s best years... so he started in ‘95, turned pro, and say if he finished winning the majors in 2008, so like that’s — I’d better get this math right, as an accountant — 14 majors over basically 14 years. That’s one a year. It doesn’t happen as often as people think.

“Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.

“But the reality, when you start looking at some

of even the best players, some of the best players have still got one or no major or two majors. So Rory’s doing pretty well at four.”

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