Rory McIlroy's planning paves way for US Open tilt
McDowell and Lowry also harbouring hopes of a big display at Shinnecock Hills
Rory McIlroy: “I feel I know this course as well as I know any US Open set-up and hopefully I can use that to my advantage.” Photograph: David Cannon/Getty
So far, Rory McIlroy’s timing has been impeccable: from escaping the storms in Florida last week, instead opting to set-up base on Long Island in advance of this 118th US Open championship; to getting a house just three minutes from the famed links, and avoiding the heavy traffic congestion that has so frustrated many of his tour colleagues.
The only congestion he has experienced has related to his hay fever allergy due to the pollen from the fescues.
All well, all good. Life’s a breeze. For the 29-year-old Northern Irishman, though, such master-planning will only matter if the real goal of adding to his career Majors curriculum vitae is achieved. It is almost four years since McIlroy claimed the last of his four Major titles and, for him, that is time enough. Where better than here, and now, to end it all?
“I think the three months I took off at the end of last year really helped, just to get myself healthy and in a right frame of mind to come out this year and embrace everything and try to add to my Major tally and try to become the best golfer in the world again. I feel like I am trending in the right direction,” said McIlroy, who has actually accumulated more world ranking points than anyone so far this year.
Time and time again McIlroy has manoeuvred into a winning position but only once, in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, did he manage to procure a “W”.
After Bay Hill, McIlroy’s strokeplay results apart from the missed cut at the Players – 5th-16th-MC-2nd-8th – confirm his ability to get into the mix if not actually closing the deal. It is that old capacity to finish matters, like he did in 2012 and 2014 when he was the world’s dominant player, which he needs to rediscover. He, more than anyone, knows that.
And this links, on old native Indian lands, has called out to him as a favoured place, a perfect venue to return to winning ways.
“They’ve all been great championships and great winners and hopefully I can join an elite list....it’s a great design, it rewards good golf and you get punished if you don’t play well!”
Since 2014, McIlroy has been a regular visitor to this neck of Long Island and, following the Memorial, chose to decamp here in preparation for this championship. Apart from getting reacquainted with Shinnecock, he also played “fun golf” at neighbouring The National, Friar’s Head and, a little further afield, Garden City. The prep work has left him eager for the main task, a sense of anticipation evident.
“I think your imagination and your feel gets a lot better the more you play, you are faced with different shots and different scenarios ....that just makes you more well equipped to face any situation you might find yourself in when you need to produce a shot. Should I putt this? Should I chip this? Around the greens here it gives you a lot of different options and as long as you are not caught in two minds about what you want to do, playing a lot those decisions come easier.”
“I feel I know this course as well as I know any US Open set-up and hopefully I can use that to my advantage,” he added.
McIlroy – who won the last of his four Majors at the US PGA in 2014 – won his only US Open title at Congressional in 2011, a vastly contrasting course to the one that will examine, even punish, players here at Shinnecock Hills.
For someone who missed cuts in each of his last two US Opens, the sense of optimism coming into this latest championship is merited. It is built on trending towards something special, of enjoying his golf again and of a familiarity with the course. He is in the right frame of mind.
“I have had five chances to win this year, I have only been able to do it once. So I feel like there is a couple that have gotten away. It is a long season, there is three Majors left this year and I feel I am right where I want to be . . . . it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been in the mix at this championship. With how my game feels, hopefully I can do the right things over the first few days and put myself in a position to win another one.”
McIlroy looks primed to contend, his due diligence complete, but also Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry too have hopes of their own to produce something special on a course which requires strategy and is more about second shot execution than simply pulling the driver out of the bag for use off the tee.
“I am not buying into the bombers [theory], I am buying into a real plodder, a real disciplined guy who is going to get on the right side of the greens and see par as a great score . . . I think this week my game has been as complete as it’s been in a long time. I feel as good as I have in a long time and I like the way this golf course sets up for me,” said McDowell.
Lowry, too, is of the opinion that iron play will be a key element.
“I love the fact that I will be standing on the tee and you know it is going to be a battle ahead of you . . . if I’m clever about my golf this week, I think I can do well.”
All to play for, in truth.