Rory McIlroy admits he will need to reproduce the flying finish which gave him victory in the Canadian Open to win another national title in Scotland.
McIlroy carded a second successive 67 in the ASI Scottish Open to post a halfway total of eight under par, but still found himself six shots off the lead shared by England’s Lee Slattery, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger and South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen.
The four-time major winner shot rounds of 64 and 61 over the weekend in Canada a month ago and believes he will need something similar at The Renaissance Club to win a third tournament of the season ahead of next week’s Open Championship in his native Northern Ireland.
“I’m struggling to see 14 under,” McIlroy said. “Maybe I missed some opportunities but obviously guys are finding the course quite easy.
“It looks like I am going to have to pick up the pace this weekend if I want to have a chance to win. Jon Rahm shot 64, 62 to win last week and I think I’m going to need something similar but I did in Canada and my game feels as good now as it did then.
Slattery had set the initial clubhouse target of 14 under after a second successive 64 which put him in pole position to claim one of the three qualifying places available for next week’s Open Championship.
“That was the primary goal for the week because if you qualify for the Open that means you’ve had a good week and anything else is a bonus,” said Slattery, who shot 65 in the first round of the Irish Open last week but faded to a tie for 27th.
“Last week I started so well but did not follow it up so to get out there and start fast today was the key.”
Van Rooyen matched Slattery’s 64 but the lowest round of the day, and the week so far, had come from the in-form Wiesberger, who birdied his last five holes in an inward half of 29 to set a new course record of 61.
Wiesberger, who was runner-up to Rahm at Lahinch on Sunday, missed seven months of last season after wrist surgery and said: “It’s been tough the last year. Coming off injury it’s been hard, but winning in Denmark a couple of weeks ago is a big boost to me.
“I really enjoy my time out on the golf course again. Maybe take it not as serious as I’ve done before and let it go and that really helped me.”
McIlroy felt a welcome sense of familiarity when he visited Royal Portrush at the weekend, but that will only extend so far when the final major of the year gets under way next week.
McIlroy has a storied history at Portrush which includes meeting Darren Clarke for the first time there on his 10th birthday and setting the course record six years later with a stunning 61 in the North of Ireland Championship.
The Co Down man never thought he would play a major on home soil in his lifetime but as the Open Championship prepares to return to the Dunluce Links for the first time since 1951, McIlroy will be trying to treat the week like any other.
That includes keeping distractions to a minimum and staying in rented accommodation, even though he was born just over 60 miles away on the outskirts of Belfast, where his parents still live.
“I actually don’t like staying at home. There’s something about it that just doesn’t feel right,” McIlroy said after a second-consecutive 67 left him six shots off the pace at the halfway stage of the ASI Scottish Open.
“One of the reasons I don’t play the Honda Classic any more is that being in your own bed playing in a tournament just doesn’t feel right to me. It is very separate.
“When I’m at home, I’m at home. When I’m on tour, I’m on tour. So I’ll be staying up there (in Portrush) next week.”
More than 200,000 spectators are due to descend on Portrush next week and McIlroy will do his best to block out the distractions and ignore the hype surrounding only the second Open to be staged outside England and Scotland.
“I have my phone on ‘do not disturb’ about 18 hours of the day, but that’s normal for me. Not just next week but life in general,” the 30-year-old added.
“Honestly, I have not thought much or talked much to people about next week. This is the first of a three-week run for me.
“I’m playing here, The Open and Memphis and I’m just trying to play good golf in those three weeks.”
McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug at Hoylake in 2014 and - after missing the defence of his title at St Andrews due to an ankle injury suffered while playing football - has finished fifth at Royal Troon, fourth at Royal Birkdale and second at Carnoustie.