Rory McIlroy: no relationship breakdown with McDowell

Northern Ireland player believes Scottish Open is ideal way to prepare for British Open

Rory McIlroy in action at the  2014 Irish Open at Fota Island Resort, Cork, where he missed the cut. Photograph: Inpho

Rory McIlroy in action at the 2014 Irish Open at Fota Island Resort, Cork, where he missed the cut. Photograph: Inpho

Tue, Jul 8, 2014, 01:00

His eye is on a Claret Jug, to the extent Rory McIlroy has returned to play this week’s Scottish Open – for the first time since 2009 – in an effort to rediscover the nuance of links golf and to help fulfil an ambition to lift the oldest Major trophy in the game.

The Northern Irishman is one of 23 players from the top-60 in the world competing in the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen, which he believes “is no better way” to prepare for next week’s Major at Hoylake.

And McIlroy yesterday rubbished as “complete nonsense” any suggestions his relationship with Graeme McDowell was strained to the point where it would impact on playing together in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September. “I would love to tee it up with G-Mac in the Ryder Cup and Paul McGinley knows that,” said McIlroy. Legal dispute McIlroy is in legal dispute with Horizon Sports, who manage McDowell, but stressed the pending court action hasn’t been an issue between the two players: “There’s obviously been a few things that have gone on that have strained the relationship, but I still talk to him regularly and catch up with him. He has stayed out of everything as much as he can and there’s no ill feeling toward him in any way from my side. He’s been one of my best friends on tour and showed me the ropes. I will always be grateful for what he’s done and for going out of his way to make me feel comfortable out here.”

McIlroy has packed plenty of links golf into his British Open build-up and played Royal County Down last week and Hoylake over the weekend. OfHoylake, He said: “I think they are trying to protect the course, so I’m sure – weather permitting over the next 10 days – it will be a bit firmer and faster by next week . . . . the rough is up, you need to avoid that. And you need to avoid the bunkers. If you drive into sand at Hoylake you are hitting out sideways.

“My overall feeling on how much rough there should be on any links is that it should definitely be a hazard. If you hit it off line, there should be a measure of punishment. But I’m not a fac of just hacking out. Being able to get the ball somewhere around the green from the rough is, I think, fair enough. I certainly don’t think we should be able to fly balls onto the putting surfaces. Giving us a chance to save par by getting up-and-down is ideal.”

Before McIlroy – whose last outing was a missed cut in the Irish Open at Fota Island last month – returns to Hoylake again, he will hope to have four competitive rounds at Royal Aberdeen in this week’s Scottish Open under his belt. As McIlroy observed, “you can play as much golf as you want on links but until you are in a competitive environment and a tournament atmosphere you never really know how your golf is going to hold up.”

McIlroy’s decision to play in the Scottish Open after a five-year absence was influenced by the fact the last four winners of the British Open – Phil Mickelson (2013), Ernie Els (2012), Darren Clarke (2011) and Louis Oosthuizen (2010) – all teed up in the tournament the week before their Major success. He has also tinkered with the clubs in his bag: he has put in a two-iron instead of a five-wood and a three-iron instead of a fourth wedge. Irish players In terms of a competitive environment, the Scottish Open has attracted a stellar field, with Phil Mickelson defending his title a week before also defending at Hoylake. McIlroy is one of 11 Irish players in the field of whom Darren Clarke, Pádraig Harrington, Michael Hoey, Shane Lowry are also getting tournament sharp ahead of making the journey down to the Lancashire coast.

One man who won’t be at the Scottish Open is McDowell, whose victory in the French Open on Sunday moved him to 17th in the world rankings. He flew back to Orlando to spend a few days with his family with plans to return back across the Atlantic at the end of this week.

The Ulsterman’s win in Paris was his first success in a year and he has admitted to fearing he had erred in pursuing what he called “a light schedule” for much of the season: “I was getting to the point where the pressure was on a bit. It was, ‘Have I waited too long? Have I underplayed?’ My energy levels mentally and physically, I’m feeling about as good as I ever have at this point in the season.”

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