Rory McIlroy prepared to make it a British Open to remember
Hopes to put second-round syndrome behind him at Hoylake
Rory McIlroy has a stretch during a practice round prior to the start of The 143rd Brtish Open championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. Photograph: Tom Pennington/Getty Images.
A murmur of concern worked its way around Royal Liverpool Golf Club, as Rory McIlroy – one of golf’s poster boys in a game where the billboards increasingly demonstrate their drawing power in the commercial world – only played seven holes of practice. What was wrong? Was he injured? Unwell?
As it transpired, there was no need to worry. None at all. McIlroy, it seemed, was only sticking to his preordained preparatory plan, one of a light-touch approach, playing-wise, that he hopes will benefit him when the real shots need to be played.
Having visited here on the weekend before last, playing 36 holes prior to making the onward journey to Royal Aberdeen for the Scottish Open, the Northern Irish man had determined a knowledge of the links which has enabled him to undertake a build-up this week intended to have him fresh – mentally and physically – for the championship itself.
So it was that McIlroy didn’t play at all on his arrival on Monday afternoon, limiting his time to hitting shots on the range and the putting green, and then only playing seven holes yesterday with his coach Michael Bannon walking with him. The idea is to play a full 18 holes today, a carefully thought-out plan.
And McIlroy, who has underperformed in this Major more than any of the others in a short, fruitful and eventual career to date, aims to rectify such links shortcomings of past years.
“I feel as prepared as I ever have coming into an Open championship,” said the 25-year-old, of his decision to play competitive links golf in Scotland last week where he led after the first round only to hit a bump in the road in the second round, a 64 to a 78 for a 14-shot differential that ultimately scuppered his title ambitions.
Of that second-round syndrome which, on a number of occasions this season, has left him with too heavy a load to carry into the weekends, McIlroy observed: “It’s one I’d like to stop this week . . . it’s more I just got it into my head and I may be putting a bit too much pressure on myself, going out on Fridays and trying to back up a score.
“I have no problem shooting a low one on Thursday; there should be no reason I have any problem shooting a low one on Friday. I think I got it into my head.
“I need to go out and pretend like it’s a Thursday again . . . it’s more about going out, play a few solid holes and get your round underway that way.”
The second-round syndrome is one that has afflicted McIlroy a number of times this season, most dramatically at the Memorial tournament in June where he opened with a 63 and followed with a 78 and, then, again last week almost as dramatically at the Scottish Open.
“It just seems like I’ve just been caught out this year by a bad stretch of holes every tournament, so if I can just eliminate that. And I think it’s easier to eliminate some of the bad stuff than it is to try and find some of the good stuff, because the good stuff is in there, obviously, with some of the low scores I’m shooting. I just try to need to keep it a little tighter when things aren’t 100 per cent on the golf course.”
Yet, as last week’s recovery in Aberdeen indicated, the game is there waiting to come out. If he can do it for all four rounds, as he did when winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, then McIlroy will be in contention at the business end of a Major again.
McIlroy, who has taken a five-wood out of the bag this week and replaced it with a two-iron, has often struggled to rediscover his feel for links despite playing so much seaside golf back in his amateur days.
“I guess when you go on Tour and you play the majority of your golf in the US, you start to neglect some of the shots that you might need in conditions like this. I don’t think I have evolved that much as a links player but I’ve been trying, especially the last few weeks, to really practice hard on some of the shots that I might need this week.”
McIlroy is hoping his preparations will enable him to deliver the goods when it matters most and to result in a win of his own.