By Andrew Both
(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy knows he will be the centre of attention at next month’s British Open, but is confident he can maintain his focus and perform at his best as the championship returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951.
McIlroy wants to treat the July 18-21 event at Royal Portrush like any other Open, difficult as that might be at a course some 100 kilometres from where he grew up in Holywood.
Attendance has been capped at just over 40,000, and the event sold out quickly as fans snapped up the chance to see McIlroy play for the Claret Jug on home soil.
“Luckily this is not my first rodeo. It’s going to be my 11th Open championship,” McIlroy said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s at Portrush or St. Andrews or Carnoustie or Birkdale or wherever, it’s the Open championship.
“You have to treat it like that and it’s almost like you can’t let your mind wander, can’t let yourself think. You have to really focus on the job in front of you.”
The 30-year-old has been the game’s best player outside the majors in 2019 and victory for the second time at the British Open would turn a good season into a great one.
After not contending at the Masters or PGA Championship, McIlroy was four shots from the lead starting the final round at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last Sunday.
However, a double-bogey at the second hole, where his drive ended in a horrendous lie so bad he could only advance the ball a couple of feet into a bunker, pretty much ended his chances.
A tie for ninth was hardly what he had in mind after winning the Canadian Open the previous week, but it still represented an improvement from missed cuts the previous three years.
“I think I’m probably most improved considering my recent results at the U.S. Open,” he said, expressing surprise that the winning score was so good.
“I thought I played well for the most part. It was a step in the right direction.
“I didn’t think 13-under was going to win the tournament. I said at the start of the week I would have taken eight under par, but (winner Gary Woodland and runner-up Brooks Koepka) separated themselves a bit from the field.”
Four-times major champion McIlroy is enjoying a few days of R&R post-U.S. Open in the Big Sur region just south of Pebble Beach but will soon start gearing up for the British Open.
It was at Portrush in 2005 that the then 16-year-old McIlroy shattered the competitive course record with an 11-under-par 61 during the North of Ireland Amateur Open.
Another 61 would not go astray at the British Open, but to achieve that he will have to keep his eye on the proverbial ball during what will undoubtedly be a week of frenzied Rory-mania.
“I’m going to have so many people I knew who are going to want to stop me and chat,” said McIlroy, who was speaking in his role as an ambassador for GOLFPASS, an NBC subscription website which launches in Britain and Ireland on Friday.
“(I need to make) sure I have enough time to do the things I need to do.
“I’ve got plenty of experience at it so I don’t think that it’s necessarily going to be a distraction. I’ve played well in Opens for a long time now.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Greg Stutchbury and Nick Mulvenney)