Tennis lover Rory McIlroy is determined to avoid a double fault in Killarney and smash his way to Irish Open glory.
The US Open champ - a red hot favourite with the bookies - crashed from third at halfway last year to 35th when he threw in the towel at the weekend.
Linked with world tennis No 1 Caroline Wozniaki, McIlroy insisted his breakup with his long-time girlfriend Holly Sweeney didn’t cause his blowout at the Open two weeks ago.
And he vowed that racking up birdies in front of sell-out crowds in Killarney is the only scoring that interests him right now.
Bidding to become the first man since Hubert Green 34 years ago to do the US Open-Irish Open double, McIlroy said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about an Irish Open.
“With Darren doing what he did a couple of weeks ago, and myself winning in the US, I think there’s a tremendous atmosphere and a great buzz about the tournament.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and expecting big crowds. It would be nice to win the two in the same year.
“But it will be tough. I think the scoring will be pretty good. It was pretty good last year.
“I remember Ross Fisher shot 61 in one of the rounds, so you’re going to have shoot the lights out to have a chance to win.”
With just one top 10 from three Irish Open starts as a professional, McIlroy knows he’s under pressure to produce the goods now that he’s a major winner.
Revved up for action, he said: “No matter what country you’re from, you want to win your National Open. Being a major champion coming here this year, expectations are going to be very high.
“It would be great to win the Irish Open. I haven’t had the best results in this tournament last couple of years, but as I said at the start, really excited about the week and just ready to get going.”
McIlroy found himself at the centre of a storm of criticism at Sandwich when he got blown away in tough weekend conditions and said: “I’d rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”
He now regrets his heat-of-the-moment comments and while it later emerged that he had split up with his childhood sweetheart before the Open, he refused to blame that for his below par performance at Royal St George’s.
Assessing the pressures of fame, McIlroy said: “I feel like once I’m on the golf course, it’s nice to have five hours just to think about golf and all you’re doing is trying to get yourself around the golf course and really just concentrating on that.
“It didn’t affect me at all at The Open. It was more I just didn’t play as best as I could in the conditions, and while I still had a decent finish, it wasn’t the finish I would have hoped for.”
McIlroy was snapped with tennis ace Wozniacki the following day and is now believed to have formed a close “friendship” with the Monte Carlo based Danish stunner.
But he had no interest in revealing details of his private life and insisted that he’s well able to handle the scrutiny on his private life.
He said: “No, it’s fine. I try to keep it as private as possible. Sometimes it’s not possible but it is what it is, and you just have to handle that the best you can.”
There was no escape from the tennis questions, however.
Sporting taped up fingers on his right hand, an eagle-eyed reporter asked: “What are they from? Tennis, perhaps?”
Grinning through clenched teeth, McIlroy said: “Very funny. I got a callous on this one just because I haven’t hit balls for five days.
“And this finger has actually got a slightly odd-shaped bone, so I just tape it to sort of keep it in place sometimes. It was pretty sore.”
McIlroy would only reveal that he hit balls with his coach for three days last week before jetting off for five days for some R&R in the mediterranean sunshine.
Pleased his swing was unaffected by the wind at Sandwich, he said: “The swing was in a really good shape.”