Rory McIlroy will tee it up at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship hoping to enhance his love affair with the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The 22 year old World Number Three admits it took time for him to appreciate the challenge posed at the ‘Home of Golf’, one of three courses to be used for this week’s event along with Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
However, after a string of impressive performances at St. Andrews, he now considers the venue among his favourites.
McIlroy finished in a tie for third in last year’s Open Championship, despite following up an opening-day 63 with 80 in his second round, and has also achieved three top-ten finishes in four starts at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
After tying for third in his first appearance in the competition as an 18 year old, McIlroy also finished eighth in 2008 before sharing second place behind Simon Dyson two years ago.
Ahead of tomorrow’s opening round, the Northern Irishman said: “To be honest, the first time I played the Old Course, I wasn't a fan. I didn't like it.
“I didn't like just that it was so different from every other golf course that I ever played, but once you play it more and more times, it grows on you, and you realise that there's so many different ways to play it.
“It gives you so much variety, and now it's one of my favourite courses in the world. I think part of the reason for that is because I've played so well here and I've become so comfortable on this golf course.
“One bad day sort of killed me at The Open last year, and you know I've come close in this tournament before on a couple of occasions. It's a course that I've got great memories of; it's got a great atmosphere and great buzz. I always look forward to coming back.”
After securing the US Open in stunning fashion in June, McIlroy, second in the Race to Dubai behind runaway leader Luke Donald, is eager to taste victory again before the year is out.
“Yeah, of course, I want to get a win,” he added. “Whether it’s here, or Korea next week, or China, or Dubai, or Thailand, or Hong Kong, or wherever I am. I want to kick on.
“I feel as if I’m playing well enough. I’m hitting the ball well and I feel like my game is in good shape. So if I can keep getting myself in contention and giving myself chances, I’ll hopefully put my foot through the door and get another win.”
Donald, World Number One and a three-time winner in 2011, is aiming to become the first man to finish top of the European Tour and PGA Tour money lists in the same year, but, while he holds a significant advantage over his rivals in the Race to Dubai, his lead over Webb Simpson on the other side of the Atlantic is just $68,971.
Asked about the prospect of topping both lists, Donald replied: “I think it’s more the fact that no-one has ever done it being a member of both Tours.
“You always try to accomplish things that nobody has ever done. I think it would be pretty special.
“It’s not easy to play on both Tours. You spread yourself a little bit thinly. You have to play well at the right event, the big events, the majors and the world events.
“It would mean a lot to lead both money lists and that's why I will keep a little eye on what everyone is doing, but rest is important as well. It's hard to chase everything.
"Obviously I have a nice lead in The Race to Dubai right now and it will be nice to play very well here. I'm playing with Jamie Redknapp, who is a good friend of mine. We'll have some fun out there and if the weather stays like this, it's pretty much unbelievable. It's always one of the most enjoyable events we play all year.”
Also in the field this week is Open Champion Darren Clarke, who is seeking a return to his best form on familiar territory.
“I've worked really hard the last couple of weeks but obviously it's good to get back on the links again,” said the popular 43 year old Ulsterman.
“I obviously enjoy links golf and, you know, it's wonderful in these conditions, it's great. It's three of the best courses in the world really.
“At the moment, the amateur format is something that we all enjoy because Dunhill are massive sponsors for the Tour. They have a great field here and they have a lot of the best players in the world that come and play and the amateurs seem to enjoy it as well, so all in all, fantastic.
“We will be laughing and joking and carrying on with our partners but we are trying to play well obviously. It's a huge tournament for us on The European Tour.”