McIlroy and Woods seek winning "knack" at Jack's place

McIlroy and Woods seek winning "knack" at Jack's place
 Jack and Barbara Nicklaus  stop to chat with Rory McIlroy ahead of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus  stop to chat with Rory McIlroy ahead of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy want to return to the major-winning club in next month's US Open and Jack Nicklaus has a word of advice for both — patience.

The Golden Bear greeted both on their return to the Memorial Tournament this week with McIlroy back after missing last year with injury and five-time winner Woods returning for the first time since 2015, when he shot a career-high 85 in the third round.

With the US Open just two weeks away, there's a mini-major feel to the 120-strong field at Muirfield Village.

New world number one Justin Thomas is in danger of losing his crown to Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth or last week's Fort Worth Invitational winner Justin Rose before he's had a chance to enjoy it.

But both Woods and McIlroy know that winning takes care of everything and while Francesco Molinari denied the Co Down man a win in the BMW PGA last Sunday that would have left him needing another this week to go back to world No 1, he's hugely positive about what might lie in store for him, and even for Woods, this summer.

“You’ve got to look at the positives,” the world number six said when asked about his failures to win from the final group at Augusta National and Wentworth.

In admitting he should have won last weekend, he listed the facts that point to a big summer ahead.

“I have earned more world ranking points out of anyone this year,” he said. "I have had good finishes, and while I have only converted one of those chances, I have played in four final groups. 

"So it's all going in the right direction. I was listening to Tiger there talking about trying to stay patient. It is all there. It is just about letting it happen and maybe not trying too hard.

"If I can just freewheel like I did at Bay Hill, good results are on their way."

Tournament host Nicklaus was asked about Woods earlier this week and said the 14-time major winner needed to learn how to win again, just as he did at the 1986 Masters when he captured his 18th major nearly two years after his previous win in the Memorial Tournament.

"We all have to learn how to win again,” Nicklaus said. "I was struggling, couldn’t get anything going. All of a sudden, you make a putt, and you remember, particularly if you've been a champion at one time. 

 Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with Tiger Woods at Muirfield Village

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with Tiger Woods at Muirfield Village

"That's what I had to draw on. Tiger has it to draw on.  But he has got to get through the barrier of not having done it for a while.

“But when you got a guy that’s as good as he is and as competitive as he is, he’ll break through that barrier. I mean, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Tiger win this week.” 

Woods hasn't won a tournament for five years or a major for ten but for McIlroy, who has gone nearly four years without adding to his haul of four major wins, it's all about getting back on the bike again.

"Winning's a habit," he said. "Once you get into the habit of it, it becomes a lot easier. You get a knack of knowing when to be aggressive, and you are in contention more and more. 

"You have to put yourself in position a few times before you succeed and I don't think Tiger is any different, just because he's won 79 times. 

"He hasn't won for five years but he is putting himself in position more and more, and I don't think it's far away at all.

"Even for me this year, I had a third in Abu Dhabi and a second in Dubai, and I got myself in final groups, and when I gave myself a chance at Bay Hill, it was 'Okay, I know what to do here'."

Woods, who was second in the Valspar Championship and tied fifth behind McIlroy at Bay Hill, expressed similar sentiments.

"It's understanding what it takes to get get a W," he said. "I've been on runs when it came pretty easy getting Ws and other stretches when it was very difficult. 

"To me this a little different, coming back after not playing for a while. But I remember the feelings. When I was at Valspar and had a chance to win, coming second, it really felt comfortable.  

"Hopefully I can shoot the low round when I need it."

With the US Open just around the corner, Woods reflected on the ten years that have elapsed since he won at Torrey Pines in 2008 without telling anyone bar his inner circle that he was playing with two stress fractures in his left tibia, not to mention a left knee missing an anterior cruciate ligament.

"The last couple of years have felt like a long, long time," he said. "I have not felt very well or very good in the last few years. A second seemed like 24 hours. The last few years felt like ten or 20 years. But the last ten years have gone by quickly." 

World No 83 Shane Lowry is also in Ohio, seeking a big result (or his first win since the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational) that would edge him closer to the world's top 60 by June 11 cut off for US Open qualification.

It's a similar scenario for world No 71 Paul Dunne in the $7m Italian Open, where he joins Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell.

Far from the game's top tier, six Irishmen will be trying to scale the summit in the Challenge Tour's Swiss Challenge — Jack Hume, Stuart Grehan, Ruaidhri McGee, Cormac Sharvin, Michael Hoey and Gary Hurley.