McIlroy cranking up for Hoylake

Hideki MATSUYAMA (JAP) , Rory MCILROY (NIR) and Phil MICKELSON (USA) during round two of The 142th Open Championship Muirfield, Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland 19/7/2013
Picture Fran Caffrey

Hoylake is a course of fond record for Irish golf but only those who stay out of the deep rough at a lush, green Royal Liverpool will have any chance of winning The Open next week.

That's the view of Rory McIlroy, who played two practice rounds there over the weekend.

Down to eighth in the latest world rankings, the 24-year old is the 12-1 favourite to lift his first Claret Jug at the course where Fred Daly became the first Irish winner of the game's oldest major in 1947 and Joe Carr won the first of his three British Amateur titles in 1953.

The course is certainly far more lush that it was in 2006, when Tiger Woods won the third of his three Open Championships to date.

It was so burnt and brown that smoking was banned and Woods used his driver just once in 72 holes as he captured the title by two strokes from Chris DiMarco on 18 under par.

McIlroy foresees more low scoring this year but it's unlikely to reach 2006 levels due to the warm, wet spring and the proliferation of thick rough.

"My biggest memory is how brown or yellow the course was, and that Tiger hit only one driver in the 72 holes." McIlroy said of the 2006 Open, which came just a few weeks before he won the European Individual Amateur Championship in Italy, securing his Open debut at Carnoustie for 2007, where he won the silver medal.

Reporting for Golf Digest at the opening of Nike’s first Performance Fitting Centre at Archerfield Links in Scotland, John Huggan quoted McIlroy as saying:

"But that was then. I was down at Hoylake over the weekend and it’s very green and very lush at the minute. The ball isn’t really running that much on the fairways and they were stopping quickly on the greens. So it will be a lot different from the course Tiger played in ’06.

"I think they are trying to protect the course a little at this stage, so I’m sure — weather permitting over the next ten days — it will be a bit firmer and faster by next week."

One of the best drivers of the ball in the game, McIlroy's chances are helped by the fact that there is plenty of rough at Hoylake.

"The rough is up. You need to avoid that. And you need to avoid the bunkers. If you drive into sand at Hoylake you are hitting out sideways. The rough was patchy. In places you were chipping out, but in others you could get away with a bit more.

"Plus, there were certain greens you just can’t miss on certain sides. On the back nine, the run of 12-13-14 greens all have really heavy rough around them. There will be a lot of balls running into trouble on each of those.

"My overall feeling on how much rough there should be on any links is that it should definitely be a hazard. If you hit off line, there should be a measure of punishment. But I’m not a fan of just hacking out. Being able to get the ball somewhere around the green from the rough is, I think, fair enough.

"I certainly don’t think we should be able to fly balls onto the putting surfaces. Giving us a chance to save par by getting up-and-down is ideal. Hoylake is like that on most holes, but there are certain patches you definitely want to avoid.

"Generally though, Hoylake is a very ‘scoreable’ course. All four of the par fives are reachable in two shots. So we’ll see guys quite a bit under par in decent weather."

McIlroy is following  in the footsteps of Open champion Phil Mickelson by opting to prepare for Hoylake by playing the Scottish Open at Royal Abderdeen this week.

He told Sky Sports News:

“I think it has influenced a lot of people and it definitely influenced me. I played with Phil the first two rounds at Muirfield last year and you could see his links game was very sharp.
“And Phil’s double has put it into many guys heads to do the same and for the Scottish Open to go back to a proper links is probably why the strength of this week’s field is great.”
As for this week’s lucrative event, the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland added: “I haven’t played the Scottish Open for a few years.
“Have heard some great things about the golf course and it’s good that the Scottish Open has gone back to a true links course.
“Not just because it is good for The Open Championship the following week (at Royal Liverpool). I think the likes of the Irish Open and Scottish Open should be on links courses because that’s what this part of the world is known for.”
Regarding his own current form, McIlroy says his game is in a fairly decent state.
“Just limiting the mistakes would be good. The win at Wentworth was probably the only week for some time that I didn’t have a bad stretch of holes," he said.
“If I can keep the bad runs of holes off my card, that’s all I need to do because the good golf is there. I’m playing good quality stuff.”