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The 151st Open

Rory's return


Will history repeat itself at Royal Liverpool?

Rory McIlroy with the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 2014

When Rory McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug on Royal Liverpool’s 18th green, long odds would have been available on him pitching up to the 1st tee nine years later with just one more major to his name.

Yet that is exactly the scenario the Northern Irishman finds himself in as he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph for the first time since that momentous week.

Expectation has stalked McIlroy in every appearance in the meantime, the US PGA Championship which followed two months on from his Open victory making him just the third player to collect four majors by the age of 24.

The near-misses have been many and accompanied by various degrees of agony. A share of the overnight lead gave him a serious shot of winning The 150th Open last year, only for an inspired Cameron Smith to take the honours following a Sunday birdie spree, while just last month he missed out on a second US Open triumph by a shot to Wyndham Clark.

McIlroy’s large and loyal fanbase must surely by now subscribe to the feeling that ‘it’s the hope that kills’ and, true to form, the 34-year-old looks to be coming back to his best at just the right time as he bids for a Royal Liverpool repeat.

He got over the winning line at the Renaissance Club on Sunday to triumph at the Genesis Scottish Open, holding firm amid a late surge from home favourite Robert MacIntyre in what could prove a pivotal psychological boost.

“It feels incredible,” he said. “Hopefully this win sort of breaks the seal for me, especially going into this week. “I don’t feel like I need to prove anything in my career but it’s satisfying to know that for me that I can still do it.

“It’s nice to have the validation. It’s great racking up top fives, top 10s, but it’s much nicer heading away with a trophy on Sunday afternoon. It’s a great shot of confidence.”

McIlroy took the feelgood factor into his practice round the following day, with Irish eyes smiling as he shared jokes with two of his fellow Champion Golfers, Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington, in the afternoon sunshine.

He will hope to be in similarly good spirits come Thursday, with a good start crucial to his ambitions. When McIlroy won here in 2014, he did so from the front, flying out the traps with consecutive rounds of 66.

Two eagles in his last three holes, helped by a shot he ranks as among the best he has ever played, rounded off a Saturday 68 and a more conservative 71 on the final day was enough for McIlroy to come out on top by two shots and become just the seventh player to lead an Open from gun to tape.

“It feels like such a long time ago," he said following the weekend’s victory in North Berwick. "You're trying to rekindle the memories as I was driving from the airport Sunday night and getting onto the Wirral.

"I haven't been here since 2014, so trying to get those memories back again and trying to re-familiarise myself with the range and the club, the first tee and everything. It's nice to come back anywhere you've had success, it's always a nice feeling."

The feeling will be mutual among the legions of locals who will watch McIlroy’s every shot this week, willing him to end a drought which appears destined to end soon for a player of such extraordinary talent.

The man from Holywood may not have followed the script which appeared set out for him since last time he was at Royal Liverpool but golf’s oldest major is not shy of providing a fairytale.

Whether a McIlroy victory this week would fall into that category may be up for debate but one thing is not – there would be few more popular winners should history repeat itself on Merseyside.

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