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Is it time for real Rory McIlroy to come out and play?

 

By Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy has 3.1 million followers on Twitter and 1.3 million on Instagram. That's a helluva lot of people who are interested in the life and times of the 28-year-old from Holywood. And even if some of them are on both social media forums, the numbers stack up very big in terms of a worldwide profile.

Let's not forget the older generation, those who are not so invested in social media, and others whose interest in golf is limited to "how's McIlroy doing?" when he's roaming the fairways of the golf Tours on both sides of the Atlantic.

They might not care much for the sport, but they know his name, and they know he is a wonderfully talented sportsman.

And then there are the hardened golf followers, those who analyse every move McIlroy makes and who care deeply about his form and fitness.

On the cusp of the 146th Open Championship it's fair to say that many, many people around the globe want the answer to one question: "When is the real Rory McIlroy going to come out to play again?"

And by "play", I mean the real deal. The confident swagger. The jaunty strut down the fairways. The long, straight tee shots, the razor sharp short game, the holing of key putts - not every putt necessarily, but enough to capitalise on his tee to green strengths.

Trouble is, Rory McIlroy has no answer, at least not yet.

His plans for 2017, which were built around a bid to complete the career Grand Slam at The Masters, were derailed by a rib muscle injury incurred in the South African Open in January.

The injury kept him out for seven weeks, and after that a combination of taking a month off to celebrate his marriage and an aggravation of the injury left him short of competitive rounds.

Ominously, his recent form ramped up the anxiety levels for McIlroy's supporters, with a missed cut in the US Open, and missed cuts at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart and the Scottish Open not the ideal build-up for Royal Birkdale.

All he can do is practice as best he can within the restrictions of that rib problem, which McIlroy admits needs to be managed, and which does not allow him to do the volume of work which brought him to the World No.1 slot.

"Look, it's been a very stop/start year. It hasn't been the year that I had planned, going back to January and feeling like I was in a good place in my game," he said.

"But these things sort of crop up out of nowhere and they challenge us. But as I keep saying, it doesn't feel that far away.

"Obviously it's been hard to get any sort of momentum with an injury and not being able to practise as much as you'd like, but I'm in good spirits.

"I feel like it's all coming together. I'm just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks and I'll be off and running.

"I feel like the pieces are all there, it's just about trying to fit them together," he said.

"This may be the week, it may not. I don't know if I'll find something this week.

"I'll be able to tell you better when I'm in the tournament and how I'm feeling out there.

"But I'm as positive as I can be, I guess, going into tomorrow. And we'll see how that goes," he said last night.

This will be a fascinating championship, being played as it is on a links that has only two par-fives, the 542-yards 15th and the 17th measuring 567 yards, which Padraig Harrington famously eagled on the Sunday of the 2008 Championship en route to winning his second Claret Jug.

Accuracy is paramount, as is course and self-management and careful club selection off the tee. It's no bombers paradise, and seeking clues to a likely champion is not easy.

Seven Majors since the 2015 USPGA have gone to first time winners.

Of those champions, Sergio Garcia has plenty of Open experience and the quality of ball striking to suggest that he may prosper with that extra edge of confidence accruing from his Masters victory.

Spanish golf is riding high just now, with Jon Rahm (Irish Open) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (Scottish Open) the winners on the Rolex Series links swing in the last two events.

The thunderstorm which rolled through the North West of England yesterday afternoon, and which caused the cessation of practice play, dumped plenty of rain on the course, so it may play a little softer than anticipated today.

Harrington and Shane Lowry completed their preparations by winning the money in a friendly contest with Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar before the storm blew in.

Harrington gives himself a fighting chance of contending.

"I have shown a bit of form the last couple of weeks, but when it comes to the Majors I just haven't been in that many of them over the last number of years," Harrington said.

"I'm trying to take the pressure off myself, the stress off myself off the golf course, because I know that things are good, and to give myself the best possible chance," he added.

Lowry was also in positive mood, and he feels very comfortable on a course he rates highly.

"This course is one where anyone could win it," Lowry commented.

"It's not necessarily a long drivers course, if you get in trouble, you can get it back in play.

"I feel this a course that I can do well on," he added.

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