‘I wanted it a lot’ - rivalries with Thomas and Norman spur McIlroy to victory

Holywood golfer surpassed figurehead of LIV Golf Series on list of PGA Tour wins

Momentum is a buzzword that is among the more favoured by players. And, for Rory McIlroy, who moved up to third in the updated world rankings following his RBC Canadian Open win, the aim will be to replicate past efforts and use it as an added part of his armoury headed into the US Open at Brookline Country Club in the Boston suburbs.

Indeed, the hottest period of McIlroy’s career came back in 2014 – when he was the dominant force in the sport – with a streak of back-to-back-to-back wins. That two of those victories came in the British Open and followed the next month by annexing the US PGA (with a victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational sandwiched in between for good measure) provides a reminder that victories can generate Major impetus.

“It was a great week to prepare for the US Open and there’s no better way to prepare yourself for tournament golf than to be in contention, having to hit the shots when you need to. And I proved this week that I can do that and hopefully get myself into position to have to do that again (in Brookline),” said McIlroy, whose last win was achieved in the CJ Cup in Las Vegas last October, where he bounced back from a disappointing Ryder Cup campaign.

McIlroy made the point that the course at St George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto bore many similarities to the one expected to be faced at Brookline: “It’s not as if I win and then we’re going to somewhere like Erin Hills or somewhere like that where it’s completely different. It’s a similar style of golf, it will probably be a similar set-up in some ways. I would imagine the greens will be a little firmer if they get the weather they want to.”

This latest performance was an extension of his fine form since moving into a runner-up finish at the Masters in April, which has been followed by top-10s at the Wells Fargo and US PGA and the win following on from a disappointing weekend at the Memorial where he faded from contention and finished tied-18th.

Of coming out on top of a battle with Justin Thomas with Tony Finau on the fringes down the stretch, McIlroy observed of how much he wanted a successful defence of the Canadian Open: “I wanted it a lot. I wanted it at the start of the day and there was a few different incentives in there. I’ve been up against JT quite a bit in the past and he’s got the better of me a couple of times. So I knew I had to play really good to beat him. Tony as well. Tony played incredible golf too. So that was a big part of it. I think going up against the best and beating the best is always makes it extra special.

“And then, look, I alluded to it, I had extra motivation of what’s going on across the pond. The guy that’s spear heading that [LIV] tour has 20 wins on the PGA Tour and I was tied with him and I wanted to get one ahead of him. And I did. So that was really cool for me, just a little sense of pride on that one.”

McIlroy’s last Major win was the PGA back in 2014, ironically the championship that finished that hot streak of three successive wins.

For this one, he had former Ulster rugby player Niall O’Connor on his bag but Harry Diamond is expected to be back caddying for this week’s Major championship after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child.

“One of the things for me [in the Canadian Open], which I don’t do usually, is I was pacing out all my yardage, writing all my notes down in my yardage book. JT and I were having lunch beforehand and I was like, I had my head in my book a lot more and was really into my shots and into my golf.

“Honestly, I think that helped. I take on a little more of the load, but I think it really helped in terms of my mentality and my approach to some shots. So I think I’m going to keep doing it at this point because I think it was helpful to do that again. I’ve sort of got away from that and rely on Harry quite a lot for that sort of stuff. But it was nice to get back into the yardage book this week.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times