Rory McIlroy insists he cannot let the pressure of winning at home get to him when he seeks a dream end to his five-year Major drought in the Open at Royal Portrush.
The Holywood star has set out his schedule to hit peak form for next month’s Claret Jug quest on the Antrim coast, and he’s feeling confident given his form and his stellar Open record.
“I haven’t tried to hide from the fact that I am playing a Major Championship basically at home,” McIlroy said at the launch of the NBC’s Golfpass digital platform in the UK and Ireland.
“I have to go out there with a good mindset and obviously not let the occasion get the better of me and hopefully produce some good golf and give myself a chance.
“Golf is a selfish sport, and you want to win for yourself. You want to have that under your belt, and everything else is just a by-product of that.
“If you can really harness that support you’re getting and use it to your advantage and not feel like it’s a burden, then it can only help.”
After finishing first, tied fifth, tied fourth and tied second in his last four Open Championships, he’s bullish about his chances.
“There’s nothing that I’d like more than to lift that Claret Jug in front of all my friends and family,” McIlroy said.
Would it be my most special win? 100%.
“But I just have to treat it like every other Open Championship that I’ve played the last few years, and my record in the Open the last few years has been better than pretty much any other tournament I’ve played.
“So if I can just approach it the same way and get into the same mindset, if anything, I’m going to the golf course that I played well on before. I know better than most of the guys that are playing that week.”
McIlroy set the course record at Portrush with a round of 61 in the North of Ireland Championship as a 16-year-old, although the layout has since been changed with the previous 17th and 18th holes removed and two new ones built into the middle of the round.
“I feel like I can go into it and treat it like any other Open Championship. I’ve played a lot in them. I’ve done well in a lot of them. So there’s no reason why I can’t do well with this one either.
“I haven’t finished outside the top five in the last four or five.
“Obviously, I won in ‘14, missed ‘15 [ankle injury], then I was top five in ‘16, top five in ‘17, and then second last year. So I haven’t finished outside of the top five in an Open in a while, and I had a decent chance to win at Carnoustie last year.”
What gives McIlroy more confidence than anything is his form this season — two wins, a runner-up finish and another eight top 10 finishes from 13 starts with just one missed cut.
“I think, if I just look at my stats throughout the year, I’m bettering the field every time I play, and I think my strokes gained total on the PGA Tour is half a shot better than the guy in second place.
So if I’m playing consistently good golf like that, I guess there’s no reason to believe otherwise why I wouldn’t go there and have a chance to win.
As for his final round 72 in the US Open, where he tied for ninth, eight shots behind Gary Woodland, he said: “Obviously didn’t get off to a great start. But I felt like I responded really well.
“If someone had told me at the start of the day, you’re going to make six birdies today, I’d be like, well, I might have a chance. But I obviously made a couple too many mistakes and the double on two, I felt was a bit of a bad break.
“That ball pitched in the bunker and then went into that long rough and sort of didn’t really have a chance from there. I would have had to have shot 64 to just tie Gary. So there was no way, after that start, that I had a chance to win.
“It was just about trying to finish as high up as possible, and I tried to do that.
“I sort of went chasing a little bit.”
After missing the cut in his previous three US Opens, he said: “I thought it was a good display, especially with my record in the US Open the last few years.
To be in the final few groups and feel that on Sunday is a welcome change.
As for his his latest endorsement, McIlroy is the face of NBC’s Golfpass platform, which was launched earlier this year in North America and is now available in the UK and Ireland.
It is described as “a digital membership programme, which has been designed and tailored for the modern golfer, or the lifestyle that he or she leads,” offering exclusive perks and benefits.
These include the chance to buy a limited edition 61 degree TaylorMade wedge to mark the course record 61 McIlroy shot in the 2005 North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush.