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The 148th Open Royal Portrush

What they said


The best quotes from Practice Day 4

Here we go! In less than 24 hours, The Open will be underway and the 148th edition of golf’s original major will captivate and thrill at the stunning Royal Portrush.

The time for talking is over…well, almost anyway.

On the final day before play, three more stars headed for the interview room to be grilled by the world’s media, while R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers had some special news.

Here is the best of it:

USA dominance does not concern McIlroy

An interesting sub-plot to this week is the prospect of the USA sweeping all four majors for the first time since 1982 but Rory McIlroy insists it will have no bearing on how he plays this week.

The home favourite has the eyes of the world locked on him as he goes in search of a second Claret Jug to partner the one he so brilliantly claimed at Royal Liverpool in 2014.

But to do so he must break a USA hot streak, with Brooks Koepka (2), Tiger Woods and Gary Woodland sharing the last four majors between them.

“Look, these things are very cyclical," he said. "You look at the European success in the majors sort of 2010, 2011. You know, these things happen in cycles. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it.

“The United States have got a lot of great golfers. You look at what Brooks has done, you look at Tiger, coming back. It's just sort of these things go in stages and they go in cycles.

“As I said, I'm not here to defend anything. I'm here to try and win a golf tournament.”

Irish eyes smiling on Rahm?

It’s fair to say Jon Rahm has quite the soft spot for Ireland and there is a reason many are backing the popular Spaniard to become Champion Golfer of the Year.

Rahm won the Irish Open in Portstewart, less than five miles down the road, in 2017 and stayed in Portrush for the week.

He regained the title earlier this month at Lahinch, displaying all the battling qualities needed to succeed at links golf.

There is no doubt that if McIlroy and co don’t fire, Rahm could well become the people’s favourite.

“The first time I played it here, in Portstewart two years ago, the Irish crowd treated me very, very specially. I've had a great support. And it's the closest I'll ever feel to playing at home, without being at home, really. That's what I think makes it so special,” he said.

The first year I didn't expect it. I didn't expect the support. And I think Spanish people have a lot of pride about the country of Spain, and being Basque, Basque people have a lot of pride in being Basque, and especially in my city.

“I think Northern Irish people are really proud of their country and to be where they're from. I feel that's a similarity and have a similar feel.

“When I'm walking around my hometown in Spain, for the most part of the year we get similar weather. Summer is a little bit better. We're right on the coast, fishing villages. It's just a very similar feel to what I had growing up. So it's a lot of home feel, too, without being at home.”

G-Mac’s journey

When Graeme McDowell decides to pack up golf, he could well have a future in Northern Ireland tourism.

The 39-year-old, who is from Portrush, has been telling his fellow pros what to do in their spare time, where to eat and where to stay.

But it’s his own journey which has caught the eye, with the former US Open champion recovering from a slump in form three years to go to reclaim a place at The Open.

“My journey has been really about kind of facing the demons of mortality, you know. It's kind of like, hey, this is not going to be around forever, this game. When you're top-20 in the world for years and years and years the game felt easy,” he said.

“You turned up ready to compete most weeks. Then all of a sudden you're battling to get back into the big events and you're missing cuts and you're finishing 133rd in the FedEx and you're thinking, well, what happened? And realising that if you continue down that road that the game of golf is going to disappear quickly.

“I was lucky that coming into this season that I had a little bit of credibility up regards my relationships with tournaments, and as US Open champion, I had a little bit of some invitations and some favours to call in.

“But I realised that they wouldn't be around forever, either. You get one stab at that, maybe two, and if you don't produce the goods you're out the door, you know. So it was really just that staring mortality in the face and saying, hey, I don't really want that so I need to refocus and motivate.

“And you ask yourself the questions, how do I get back to where I want to be? I have to work hard and you have to work on the right things and you're going to be patient and it has to hurt a few times. If you stay patient enough good stuff will happen again. And thankfully it did.”

Broken records

There was never any doubt this was going to be a special Open but R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers confirmed just how popular it is.

A total of 237,750 spectators will walk the Dunluce Links this week, the highest ever outside of St Andrews.

And next year at Royal St George’s looks to be as equally special.

“In another sign of the growth of this championship our initial sales at Royal St. George's for next year have been even faster than they were this time last year for Royal Portrush,” the Chief Executive said.

“In previous years I've said the big-time sport needs big-time crowds and I think this clearly shows that The Open is going from strength to strength. It's very much a global celebration of sport at the very highest level and no longer simply a British championship.

“That's very important for us because The Open is where we generate the income to be able to support the game and invest our commitment of two hundred million pounds into the sport over the next decade.

“I'm hugely positive about golf at the moment.”

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