Wednesday, 17 July 2019
Rory McIlroy  (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)

Home hero Rory McIlroy is looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere as The Open Championship returns to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years but is fully focused on claiming a second Claret Jug at Royal Portrush Golf Club.

All eyes have been on McIlroy in the build up to the season's final Major Championship but the World Number Three does not believe that will be the case when the action gets under way on Thursday.

The festival of golf will be going on outside the ropes throughout the week in County Antrim but McIlroy is confident that when he is taking on the world's best, that will be an asset rather than a distraction.

"I'm from Northern Ireland and I'm playing at home but I don't see myself as that centre of attention," he said. "I'm here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn't take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here.

"But at the same time, I might not get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again, you never know what happens. I'm really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.

"I'm going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can't help you, then nothing can.

"I've always felt I've played my best golf when I've been totally relaxed and loose and maybe that environment is what I need. I'm not saying that that's the way I'm going to approach it, I'm still going to try to go out and shoot good scores and concentrate and do all the right things.

"But at the same time, I can't just put the blinkers on and pretend that's not all going on. One of my sort of mantras this week is, 'look around and smell the roses'. This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege.

"I want to keep reminding myself that this is bigger than me. I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.

I'm going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can't help you, then nothing can - Rory McIlroy

"I'm just treating this like any other Open Championship. I've played well here for the last few years, I've played well on this golf course, so I've just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough.

"I think I was making it a little bit bigger in my head than it needed to be. I've played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are. No matter if there's grandstands around or if there's not, or if there's a lot of people or if there's not, it's the same golf course."

McIlroy's memories of Portrush go back to his childhood and he met Darren Clarke - the man who would go on to be his captain in the Ryder Cup - for the first time as he spent his tenth birthday playing the links.

"The golf club has been a big part of my upbringing," he said. "It's sort of surreal that it's here. Even driving in yesterday, when you're coming in on the road and you look to the right and you've got the second tee, I don't know who was teeing off, maybe Tony Finau and someone else, it's sort of strange to see them here.

"I'm delighted that it's back here, delighted to be a part of it and at this stage just excited to tee it up and get going tomorrow."

McIlroy shot the course record of 61 at Portrush in 2005 but with some alterations having been made to the layout, he does not believe that will have any bearing on his week.

One thing that may however is caddie Harry Diamond, a childhood friend of McIlroy's and fine golfer in his own right who has intimate knowledge of the rolling links.

"One of the things people don't realise, Harry has played more rounds of golf on this golf course than I have, and definitely more competitive rounds," McIlroy said. "He reached the final of the North (of Ireland Amateur Championship) a few years ago.

"He's just as comfortable on this golf course as I am so that is a big help this week. Not that I don't let him have any say any other weeks but I think with his experience around here, my ear will be a little sharper to what he has to say."

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