McIlroy eyes Open win on home soil to end major drought - GulfToday

McIlroy eyes Open win on home soil to end major drought


Rory McIlroy plays his shot off the 7th tee during a practice round on Tuesday, ahead of the start of the British Open on Thursday. Associated Press

As the British Open gets ready to tee off this week at Royal Portrush -- marking the event’s return to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years -- Rory McIlroy would look at it as an opportunity to end his five-year major drought with a win on home soil.

The four-time major champion has not lifted one of golf’s big four trophies since winning the 2014 US PGA Championship, but is the bookmakers’ favourite to get his hands on the Claret Jug after finishing tied for second a year ago at Carnoustie, two strokes behind Francesco Molinari.

McIlroy has continued his consistent form this season, claiming two titles including the prestigious Players’ Championship while recording 11 top-10 finishes.

He admitted that it would be a dream come true to triumph in the 148th Open Championship at a club where as a 16-year-old he fired a course record 61.

“If I’m being honest, it would obviously mean the world to me,” said the Northern Irishman, who won the 2014 Open at Hoylake.

“But just like winning Hoylake meant the world to me as well. Just getting my hands on that Claret Jug again would be a huge accomplishment.” World number three McIlroy, who won the 2016 Irish Open at the K Club just outside Dublin, was keen to play down the pressure of playing in front of his home fans. “I think it’s going to feel normal. It’s going to feel like just another Open Championship,” said the 30-year-old after a solid showing at last week’s Scottish Open.

“I’ve played in a few of them now. I know what to expect. Might be a little louder.

“Atmosphere might be a bit different but the objective is the same, to go there and play good golf and hopefully give myself a chance to win the Claret Jug.” Englishman Max Faulkner won the last Open to be played at Portrush, in 1951, taking home a top prize of just £300 ($375). The champion this year will receive $1,935,000 (£1.5 million).

Among the favourites is red-hot world number one Brooks Koepka and a resurgent Tiger Woods.

But the fans will roar loudest for McIlroy and his compatriots, including 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, who will have the honour of hitting the first tee shot of the tournament early on Thursday at his home course -- he lives in the town of Portrush.

Koepka, whose recent major record is remarkable -- he has won four in his last nine appearances and finished first twice and second twice in the last four he has played -- said on Tuesday that having Portrush local Ricky Elliott on the bag for this week’s British Open gives him “more confidence”.

The 29-year-old missed Carnoustie a year ago through injury but his British Open record has been good, with two top-10s from five appearances and a best of tied sixth in 2017.

Despite having never visited Northern Ireland before, the American is not having too many difficulties getting to grips with the Royal Portrush layout, as Elliott knows the course inside out.

“(I) definitely have a little bit more confidence having him on the bag this week, knowing this golf course so well. But I’m looking forward to it,” said Koepka.

“Every hole I just step up on, ‘You tell me what to do, you’ve played it more than anybody’.”

Three-time Open champion Woods meanwhile will play professionally in Northern Ireland for the first time as he seeks a 16th major to close on Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18. The 43-year-old American capped one of sport’s greatest comebacks by winning the Masters in April, despite previously slipping out of the top 1,000 in the world rankings after years of struggling with back injuries and poor form.

Woods’ reimposed threat at the top of the game was confirmed 12 months ago at Carnoustie when he seized the lead on the back nine in the final round, only to finish in a tie for sixth, three shots behind winner Molinari. Woods admitted he had been hoping to tap into Elliott’s course knowledge by playing a practice round with Koepka.

Meanwhile, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson said on Tuesday that a recent six-day fast to “reset” after a poor run of form has helped him “feel better” about himself heading into this week’s British Open.

The 49-year-old, who was presented with an award at Royal Portrush for 25 consecutive years ranked in the world’s top 50, said he lost 15 lbs (6.8kg) after only drinking water and a “special coffee blend” for six days.

Agence France-Presse

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