Rory McIlroy hopes to embrace home advantage when he bids to win the Irish Open for the first time at Royal Portrush this week.
The Northern Irishman has finished in the top ten twice in four appearances in his National Open, but admits that the pressure of being the home favourite has got to him in recent years.
But with the tournament moving north of the border to a course where McIlroy once shot 61 as a teenager, the former US Open Champion is aiming to take full advantage of the huge gallery’s support – with Friday, Saturday and Sunday selling out in advance for the first time in European Tour history.
“To be honest the last couple of years, I didn’t really enjoy the tag of the home favourite,” McIlroy admitted.
“I just didn’t feel very comfortable with it – this year I really want to embrace that. You look at so many people and when they have got a home advantage, it is an advantage, and it should be not just me, but also for the other guys from here as well. It’s something that you really have to embrace, and that’s what I'm going to try and do this week.
“I think everyone has waited a long time for the Irish Open to come back up north and to have it played at one of the best golf courses in the world, Royal Portrush, is fantastic.
“The first ever European Tour event to sell out is something that’s obviously got a lot of people very excited, and it’s shaping up to be a great week.
“It's going to be fantastic. Yesterday I played an early practice round and the people who came out to watch really created a great atmosphere. I’m looking forward to playing in front of all of them this week, and hopefully I can put on a good show.
“The golf course is in great shape – the rough’s thick and greens are running well. Hopefully the weather cooperates a little bit, and it should be a great week of golf.”
After finishing in the top five in his first four European Tour events of the year, McIlroy’s form has tailed off slightly in recent months.
But the 23 year old is confident he is on the right track to return to his world-beating best.
“I’ve put ten days of really good work in,” said the World Number Two. “My game feels good. It actually felt pretty good at the US Open.
“I felt like it was starting to come around. In a way it couldn’t be a better time to come back here and play Portrush. It brings back so many good memories, and you can feed off that, and that gives you some confidence.”