Rory McIlroy left Ballyliffin to prepare for this month’s Open Championship determined not to make the same mistakes he did in advance of the US Open.
McIlroy, 29, will head to Carnoustie next week aiming to break a four-year major drought by regaining the Claret Jug he won at Hoylake in 2014, the same year he also landed the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
His attempts at the majors so far this year have ended in disappointment after playing alongside eventual winner Patrick Reed in the leading group on the last day at the Masters but failing to make a challenge at Augusta National, then missing the halfway cut in last month’s US Open at New York’s Shinnecock Hills.
McIlroy will take the early part of this week off from competition to visit London and attend Wimbledon before returning to practice closer to home in Northern Ireland to further adjust to links golf after a disappointing tie for 28th at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Carnoustie will be familiar ground when he arrives on Scotland’s east coast next weekend ahead of the third major of the year having made his Open debut there in 2007 when he won the R&A’s Silver Medal for low amateur. He returned three months later for his second tournament as a professional at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, of which Carnoustie is part of a three-course rotation during the event, to claim third place and become the youngest player to his European Tour card at the age of 18.
That familiarity allows McIlroy to avoid the pitfalls of over-preparation he believes scuppered his US Open chances on Long Island a month ago.
“Yeah, I think that is (beneficial), especially having knowledge of it in an Open Championship,” he said. “Obviously we play the Dunhill most years and (although) it’s nowhere near what it’s going to be like for an Open Championship it is nice.
“I felt like I almost over-prepared for Shinnecock, I was there too long and I started to see all the spots I shouldn’t hit it in and that’s where I was hitting it.
“So to know the course and what to expect is nice.”
Nor does McIlroy expect Carnoustie to be the unfair challenge Shinnecock turned out to be after set-up mistakes on the course started to penalise good shots.
“The Open’s never going to get like that because the greens won’t get that fast and the greens aren’t that slopey so even if it does get rock hard it’s still very, very fair and very credible.”
In the build-up to last week’s Irish Open, the final year of the four he also acted as tournament host through his Rory Foundation, McIlroy said he would not lose sleep if he did not add to his major championship victory haul. On Sunday, following a closing one-under 71 at Ballyliffin, the world No 8 said he would stay relaxed in his approach to future majors, with his last three Open starts bringing him a victory in 2014, a tie for fifth in 2016 and tie for fourth last year at Birkdale, McIlroy having missed his title defence in 2015 at St Andrews due to injury.
“Just treat it like any other event. Just treat it like another golf event, prepare the way I normally prepare and go out and play. Go out and see what happens, not put any pressure on myself.
“My record in the Open Championship has been pretty good in the last few years and just go out and play my game and if I can do that and commit 100% to what I’m doing, I’m sure I won’t be far away.”
McIlroy has also been buoyed by his Irish Open experience, both as a tournament host and in terms of readjusting to links golf and fixing some putting woes on Sunday that had prevented him from challenging the title he won in 2016 at the K Club.
“It’s been great, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather’s been fantastic and I felt the golf course played really, really well. It played like a proper links course, you know, it firmed up, it got bouncy, really the way it should be.
“I felt like I played pretty well, just couldn’t get going. I just didn’t hole enough putts over the first couple of days and didn’t get myself into position but overall I feel like my game’s in pretty good shape.
“I definitely saw some encouraging signs on the greens (in the final round) which was great and gives me something to work on over the next few days leading into The Open.”