Rory McIlroy is hoping to channel the spirit of 2016 as he looks for a second win at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
The four-time Major Championship winner claimed this title in two years ago but has missed the cut every other year since 2013, with two top tens in his six appearances previous to that.
Much has changed in the seasons since McIlroy's Foundation began hosting in 2015, including the event joining the Rolex Series and boasting the seven million US dollar prize fund that comes with it.
Ballyliffin Golf club makes its debut hosting the Irish Open this week and McIlroy has left no stone unturned in his preparations, arriving on the north coast on Monday to get a feel for a course he has not played in 12 years.
The 29 year old admits that has not always been the case as he juggles hosting and playing duties but he feels this season he has got it right, just as he did at The K Club in 2016.
“There's been a couple of times where I just haven't felt as prepared as I could have been walking onto the first tee on Thursday,” he said. “So got here Monday morning, practised all day, Monday afternoon. I was here yesterday at 8.00am.
“I've done my work so there's no excuse about not being prepared or not and I've learned that as I went along. I felt I was underprepared at County Down, I felt okay at The K Club. I've learnt as I went along and I feel this year I'm right where I need to be.”
As a home favourite, Major winner and former World Number One, all eyes will be on McIlroy this week and he admits the weight of expectation is something that has previously held him back.
“I was wanting to do well rather than just letting it happen,” he said. “But if I can give myself a chance to win this tournament like I did at Wentworth a few weeks ago, I'd be happy enough.
“I just learned over the years to try and treat it like a normal week and go out and play. The more I can freewheel, the better I'll play and that's the way I need to approach it.
I feel this year I'm right where I need to be - Rory McIlroy
“I think each and every year you learn something a bit different and more just about how you control yourself and your thoughts and your emotions.
“I am better. I felt like I did a really good job at The K Club a couple of years ago at using the crowd to my advantage and using that. As soon as I hit the shot on 16 on to that green and the eruption from the crowd, I used that to spur me on. That was a cool moment and I hope I can use a couple of those moments this week hopefully to the same effect.”
That shot into the par five 16th set up a two-putt birdie and the roars on the 18th were even louder as McIlroy put his second from 253 yards to two feet for a victory-sealing eagle.
The fans will be out in force again this week and McIlroy is hoping they can help spur him on to a first Rolex Series win.
“It's fantastic,” he said. “They love their golf. It's great that it's so well supported. No matter where we have this event in the country, it's always been well supported and I think you go up-and-down the range, all the players will tell you the same thing. So they are very inspirational.”
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