McIlroy eyes major turnaround at Birkdale
It's become a familiar refrain for Rory McIlroy as he enters The Open without momentum on his side.
For each of the last two weeks, McIlroy has praised the state of his game in pre-tournament press conferences. On each occasion, he slammed the trunk days later following a missed cut. The Ulsterman also made an early exit from last month’s U.S. Open, and a final-round 64 at the Travelers Championship remains the lone bright spot of an otherwise dismal recent run.
“It hasn’t quite happened for me over the past couple weeks. But as I keep saying, it doesn’t feel that far away,” McIlroy said. “Because I haven’t played that much, the only thing I can really do is take some sort of confidence from what I’m seeing in practice, and sometimes that doesn’t quite translate to what happens on the course.”
McIlroy was Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014, and 10 years have now passed since he made his Open debut as a cherubic amateur at Carnoustie in 2007. A few years older and a few pounds lighter, McIlroy is now a four-time major champ equipped with the knowledge that golf contains both ebbs and flows – and that the gap separating the two can often be paper-thin.
“I’m just waiting for that round, or that moment, or that week where it sort of clicks and I’ll be off and running,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had little periods like this before in my career, and I’ve been able to bounce back from them. I’d say I was in worse positions than this. I feel like my game, the pieces are all there, it’s just about trying to fit them together.”
McIlroy was unable to defend the Claret Jug at St. Andrews in 2015 because of injury, but he tied for fifth last year at Royal Troon and also finished T-3 on the Old Course back in 2010.
He described this season as “stop-start,” one that has twice been derailed because of a rib injury that became difficult to properly diagnose and still requires occasional treatment. His tepid performances of late have allowed others to leapfrog him when discussing tournament favorites, but the drive that led him to the Claret Jug three years ago remains present. So too does the realization that a turnaround could be only a week away.
“A second Open Championship isn’t going to change my life. But I want to win,” McIlroy said. “Having that success, you only want to do that more. And you want to emulate that, and you want to do it again and again and again. So I definitely haven’t lost the hunger that I’ve always had.”