Happy hunting ground can help McIlroy banish major blues

Happy hunting ground can help McIlroy banish major blues

Rory McIlroy believes he can avoid the first round major nerves that derailed his chances of winning the US Open and The Open and finally challenge strongly for that elusive fifth major in the US PGA at Quail Hollow.

The world No 4 was the overwhelming favourite at Erin Hills but crashed to six over par after eight holes and opened with a  78 en route to missing the cut.

The 28-year old was playing for the first time in nearly six weeks in Wisconsin but after missing the cut in the Irish Open and the Scottish Open, he admitted that it was major championship nerves and his desire to do well that caused him to slip to five over after six holes at Royal Birkdale.

While he eventually rallied to finish tied for fourth behind Jordan Spieth, the Co Down man arrived at Quail Hollow yesterday as the red-hot favourite to win here for the third time.

And he insisted that there will be no repeat of the first round nervousness and self-doubt that dashed his chances at Erin Hills and Royal Birkdale simply because the Charlotte track is right up his alley.

"It's different,” McIlroy said last night of the feelings he gets at Quail Hollow, where he has won twice and recorded four more top ten finishes, including a playoff defeat to Rickie Fowler, in his seven appearances here.

“The difference is that I am comfortable in these surroundings. I am comfortable in this environment. I've played really well here before and I can see a good score here. 

"These are sort of my conditions so we shall see.”

McIlroy flourishes on long, soft, American courses and after being pelted by overnight rain, a revamped Quail Hollow set up well for him when he saw it for his first practice round yesterday.

The Holywood star played 18 holes in case his practice schedule is curtailed by bad weather forecast to hit the area of the next two days.

“I don't know if I have ever seen the golf course in better shape,” McIlroy said. “Considering how new the greens are, they are perfect and very firm, even though we have had a lot of rain overnight."

While it is not quite the same course where he shot a final round 62 en route to his maiden PGA Tour title in the Quail Hollow Championship in 2010, or the track where he shot 61 in the third round en route to victory in the Wells Fargo Championship two years ago, he was happy with what he saw.

"They have made the start a little more difficult for the first five holes,” he said. “Instead of thinking you should be two under par through the first five, you are thinking even par is good and you have done pretty well. 

“But once you get past that start, the course opens up and gives you some chances and it is pretty similar from a layout standpoint to what it was before.”

Open champion Spieth was quick to brand McIlroy the favourite after playing with him for the first two rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

"I would say Rory's probably the guy to beat at this point next week," Spieth said after finishing three shots behind McIlroy in a share of 13th on Sunday, 12 strokes behind Hideki Matsuyama. 

"I played with him the first two days and the way that he is driving the golf ball, if he continues to do it there, he just has a massive advantage over the field at that point."

McIlroy agreed that his game is “trending in the right direction” but while he is wary of the favourite’s tag, he admitted he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t contend on Sunday afternoon.

He said: “He last two tournaments I have played, I have finished in the top five and got into the fringes of contention both times. 

"Yesterday I got within one after six or seven holes and couldn't keep it going but it is getting there. My game feels good and I’m driving the ball well, which is a huge advantage around here

"Hopefully I continue to do that and give myself a lot of opportunities and we see how we go.”

As for being favourite, he said: "If you go on course form, you'd think I have a pretty good chance. But Jordan is coming off the back of a win at The Open, a win at the Travelers. 

“He played okay last week, even though he didn't have his best stuff, and was still able to finish in top 15. 

"I am happy to be one of the favourites. I don't know if I am ‘the’ favourite. But that's what everyone is tagging me this week. 

"But yes (I have heightened expectations here.) I'd be pretty disappointed if I didn't have a good chance coming into the back nine on Sunday.”