Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Irish Open: Rory McIlroy can’t wait to get going

PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JUNE 27: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland speaks to the media prior to the Pro Am for the 2012 Irish Open held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on June 27, 2012 in Portrush, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy is worried his course record of 61 at Royal Portrush might be in serious danger at this week's Irish Open.

The Holywood superstar tweeted from the course that the Dunluce Links was in such good condition for the tournament that someone could go out and shoot a round of 60.

“Played 18 this morning. Portrush in great nick. Think my course record might be in jeopardy though!”

Of course Royal Portrush has been significantly lengthened since McIlroy's 61 in the North of Ireland Amateur Open in 2005 at the age of 16 and Patrick McCrudden, in the field as one of four Ulster amateurs this week, is the current record holder after his 68 earlier this year.

McIlroy was taking a leaf out of Tiger Woods' book by getting to the course early to avoid the huge crowds who gathered to watch the practice rounds.

“I've never seen anything like it on the Tuesday at a European Tour event,” he said after completing 18 holes with best mate Harry Diamond.

“It's more like an Open Championship than a normal tournament.

“The crowds here are just amazing and it already feels very special to be here.”

Even though he missed the cut in his defence of the US Open title in San Francisco earlier this month, McIlroy is still the bookies favourite to lift the Irish Open trophy on Sunday evening.

And he says he feels much more in control of his game after working with coach Michael Bannon before heading to the north Antrim coast.

“I feel like I'm swinging really well at the minute and my game is exactly where I want it to be,” he said.

“I really hope the sun does shine this week, especially for the sake of all the people coming here.”

While McIlroy grabs the lion's share of attention this week, Rathmore's Alan Dunbar isn't ruling out the chance of him being upstaged by one of the other Ulstermen in the field.

And the 22-year-old, fresh from his British Amateur championship at Royal Troon last week, said he didn't see any reason why one of the four Northern Ireland amateurs in the field couldn't win at Royal Portrush.

“We are all playing in the tournament and we are all playing for a reason and we are all good golfers,” he said.

“I'm sure Shane Lowry was asked about it before he won, so it's definitely possible.”

Dunbar, from the neighbouring Rathmore club, intends to turn professional if he earns his European Tour card, even though it would mean missing out on invitations to both the Masters and the US Open next season.

But Michael Hoey, British Amateur winner in 2001 and who played at Augusta the following year, says he should reconsider that decision.

“If you turn pro you need to be in the top 50 in the world to get into Augusta,” he said.

“At the minute he's in the field for that and for the US Open, which I didn't get to, so I would say wait and play those events.

“It's a long career and there's plenty of time.”

Dunbar is probably the most highly-tuned player in the field for this week's Irish Open.

He played no less than 11 rounds on his way to the coveted amateur crown in Scotland last week.

“That's what these guys play in two weeks,” he said.

“I am a bit tired but I have been resting up for the past few days so I'll be ready for Thursday to give it 100 per cent.”

Holding his nerve coming down the stretch to win the last two holes for victory last week will stand Dunbar in great stead for playing in front of the thousands who will flow into Royal Portrush this week.

Even seasoned professionals have been amazed at the projected crowd numbers for each day. But Dunbar will take it all in his stride.

“Playing the Walker Cup was a nerve-racking experience and I don't think the nerves I felt there will ever be matched,” he said.

“I was nervous coming down the last few holes at the British Amateur but I was still well in control.

“I don't really know why I felt so much in control.

“I just sort of knew I was going to have a chance to win, for some reason, and to get the job done was great.

“Coming here your first thought is just to try to make sure that you get through to the weekend.

“You come through a week like Scotland and your expectations can obviously get very high.

“I'm just trying to play well on Thursday and Friday and hopefully I can get through to the weekend and then have a couple of good rounds.”

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