Rory McIlroy is massively ambitious. Credit: golffile.ieRory McIlroy insists he now has the self-belief to play for his place in the history books as he heads to Sandwich as the red-hot favourite for The Open.

The cash doesn’t count anymore for a player who has amassed more than €10m in prize money alone in just three and a half years as a pro.

But he also knows that while he’s already got major No 1 under his belt, he’s yet to show he can win an ugly dogfight coming down the stretch.

That’s the next big challenge ahead for a wonderkid than manager Chubby Chandler reckons is the fastest learner in the game.

Chandler said: “He has learned how to win by blitzing the field and he is now going to have to learn what happens when he has to look somebody in the eye and beat him.

“But he knows he has got a long time to learn it all.  I think his position is quite amazing for somebody who hasn’t won many times.

“Rory will keep learning and at some stage he is going to have to beat somebody head to head down the stretch because he has never had that yet.

“He has never looked in somebody’s eyes and had to beat them coming down the last nine holes but that will come sooner or later.”

Halfway to his first major. Rory McIlroy speaks to reporters after his second round 66 at Congressional. Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieMcIlroy has won just three times since he turned professional but he’s never had to do what Padraig Harrington did to Sergio Garcia in the 2007 Open and 2008 US PGA.

When he won his maiden title in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic he was six clear with six to play but wobbled down the stretch and only managed to hold off Justin Rose by a shot.

His other two wins has been runaway affairs that saw him leave his rivals for dead long before the end.

When he captured the Quail Hollow Championship in the US last year he closed with a course record 62 to beat Phil Mickelson by four shots.

Rory McIlroy on the 4th hole in the final round of the US Open at Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Washington.19/6/11. Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieThen came the US Open three weeks ago where he led from start to finish, lapping the field en route to an eight-shot victory.

When things have been tight he’s had to settle for second best so far, losing a couple of play-offs in Switzerland and Hong Kong in 2008.

Golf fans worldwide would relish the chance to see McIlroy butt heads with someone like Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson or Irish pals Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell next week.

But whatever happens, McIlroy now knows he has what it takes to win the big ones and start carving out a place for himself alongside the game’s legendary figures.

Believing the pressure has been lifted following his Congressional breakthrough, he said: “I feel like I could have a good chance to win more majors. Whether is gets into the double digits I don’t know.

“But I have won my first one at the same age as Jack won his first one. Seve won his at 22. Tiger won his at 21.”

It’s all about winning grand Slam titles from now on and McIlroy now has the belief to win more.

He said: “That’s what it’s given me. Belief. Belief in my own ability. Belief in how I can handle certain situations and belief that I can go out and win a major by eight shots.

“Even before I won the US Open I had all the money I ever wanted. It is not a motivating factor, especially after winning a major. I want to win the next one and win the next one.

“It has given me a taste of winning these most important trophies in the world and that’s basically what I am playing for now. I’m playing for a place in history rather than playing for money.”

McIlroy’s comeback from his Masters meltdown to win the US Open in Tiger-esque fashion will go down as one of the sports stories of the year and possibly the century.

But it’s not his talent but his ability to learn that amazes his agent Chandler but his ability to learn new tricks.

McIlroy on the second in the final round. Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieThree years ago he had few shots in his repertoire bar a high draw.

Now he hits cuts and draws with ease and his wind game has come on in leaps and bounds.

Chandler said: “He’s still got things to learn about playing in the wind but he’s learning how to flight the ball and he’s getting better at that.

“I think he has certainly learned more shots and he is learning more all the time. What was impressive at Congressional was how well he was hitting it from left to right and right to left.

“Doing it under the cosh was new but it was amazing to watch how he was able to do it as easily as he was doing it.”

The amazing thing about McIlroy’s bounceback victory at the US Open was how he managed to turn things around following his painful loss in the Masters just 70 days earlier.

A lot happened during that period but Chandler points to several key issues: his acceptance of what he did wrong from his body language and lack of communication with his caddie to his putting and that life-changing trip to Haiti.

McIlroy and caddie JP Fitzgerald worked as a team at Congressional. Picture Fran Caffrey/“He is a very fast learner and even though it doesn’t look as though he is absorbing stuff, he takes everything in,” Chandler said of the haitus between Augusta and Congressional. “There were one of two things that happened by chance that worked massively in his favour.

“I thought it was a massive negative for him to have to go to Malaysia straight after the Masters and probably quite difficult travelling with Charl. But in actual fact that probably was a positive that got it out of the way and there was no sort of barrier at all. They flew on the same plane and he even wanted a picture of Charl with the green jacket on.

“Then to be so far away from the glare of reading what is going on in Britain and being away from it all and actually competing was fantastic for him. It was a piece of luck and not intended that way at all.

“What I have learnt over a long spell doing what I do, you must never had a de-brief too near the event because there is too much emotion involved. So the fact that I only went to see him a week on Wednesday after the Masters, when I have had lots to think about it, he has had lots of time to think about it, that was much better than trying to do it a day or two days after because whatever you say to him on Sunday night you might as well forget because whatever you say is not going to be right.

McIlroy and caddie JP Fitzgerald improved their comminication skills for the US Open. Credit:“Whatever you say he is not going to hear it and it won’t mean anything. It was a week on Wednesday after Malaysia that I went to Belfast and that was when I realised that he was going to be fine.

“We talked about something and nothing for half an hour and then we started talking about the Masters and he just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about Chubby.’ He said, ‘It’s only a golf tournament and I had a bad day and I am only 21 and I will learn from it.’  Whoah.

“I try to evaluate everything from a distance and try and see where we are at and the guys that come back quickest are the guys that don’t go very far down. Well he hadn’t gone that far down. He wasn’t as far down as everybody thought he was or should have been because he has a very pragmatic approach to everything.

“There was a combination of events there that helped with the timing and getting back on the bike with playing and that was all great for him. And the other thing we had no idea was going to be as good for him was that trip to Haiti and seeing the suffering, the poverty and destruction there. If you ever needed anything to confirm what he actually thought, well that’s it.  He’s put everything into the context he thought it was.

“There were lots of things that happened in that time - Greg Norman ringing him the day after the Masters, Tom Watson having a chat with him at the Memorial. I had a good chat with JP from Korea for about half an hour. We spoke about where I thought it had gone wrong and the body language of both of them. And in fairness to JP he took all that on board.

“And [former England cricket captain] Michael Vaughan, he said have a look at the tapes, get Rory to look at the tapes and look at his body lauguage on the last day compared to the first three days. Even before he hits a shot. It’s one thing his body language being bad after after being 2 over through five holes as he was but his body language was terrible before he got off the first tee.

McIlroy on the 18th green on day two of the USGA US OPEN at Congressional country club, Bethesda, Washington..Picture Fran Caffrey/“He was looking 45 degrees down when he was walking up that tunnel of people to the tee and straight down on the tee. Michael Vaughan said, that’s a trait in cricket. Cricketers under pressure do that.  We make sure they all look at the boundary edge and look at the people around the boundary. Get Rory to focus on the people in the crowd. He will keep his head up and his body language will be better naturally.

“When he is a successful Ashes winning captain, he knows a bit about body language and psychology. It was a fantastic little bit of advice that he was able to pass on.

“One of the other things that happened was the Steve McGregor who does Rory’s fitness, sat me down, Rory down and JP down explained how much experience he had around him with Stuart [Cage’s], myself and JP’s experience and to feed off that. Don’t think you have to do it on your own.  We had a good chat but I wasn’t sure how much of it had gone in. Turned out it had all gone in.

“He doesn’t say, ‘right, fine, I’ll do that.’ He just absorbs it and fishes out the things he thinks are relevant to him. The Vaughan thing was a really easy one to mention on the range before he went out on Saturday and Sunday.

“I mentioned it on Saturday and again on Sunday and he said; ‘I did it yesterday. I forgot a couple of times to get my head up a little bit….’ so it’s gone in. Him and JP communicated miles better than they had before. On the first tee on the last day, he looked as if he was going to take on the world. He wasn’t staring down as if he were going to the gallows, he was looking up at everybody and feeding off everything going on.”

McIlroy’s putting was vastly improved at Congressional thanks to some tips from Dave Stockton Jr., a two-time major winner and short game expert.

Chandler said: “Dave Stockton was massive as well - two 20-minute sessions. With the help he has had from Paul Hurrion, the two together was a good combination and he just looked a different putter to be fair.”