Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

The Open: Rory McIlroy out to end freaky Friday hoodoo

At a stretch: Rory McIlroy limbers up for the Open at Hoylake yesterday

Unlike Bob Geldof and his Boomtown Rats, it is not Mondays that Rory McIlroy doesn't like; it's Fridays.

It has become so bad for McIlroy in the second rounds of tournaments that it has got between his ears and he wants to shoot the whole day down.

The Ulsterman did it again last week at the Scottish Open, following up a course record 64 with a card-wrecking 78. And he admitted here that it is messing with his mind.

"It's just got into my head," he said. "And I may be putting too much pressure on myself going out on Fridays trying to back up a score. I have no problem shooting a low one on Thursday.

"There should be no reason I have any problem shooting a low one on Friday."

He is now 51-under par for first rounds this year and nine over par for the second rounds.

Some mind-bending trickery is required to alter that bizarre habit. Or perhaps another chat with Jack Nicklaus, who said recently that when he sees McIlroy struggling in one of his "Freaky Friday" fogs, the young lad needs a kick up the backside.

McIlroy has come up with a simpler and less painful solution. "I need to go out and pretend it's Thursday again," he said. "Just play a few solid holes and get your round under way. Hopefully I can start to turn that second round thing around and start shooting some better scores."

To help him control his game better on this fast-running Royal Liverpool links, the 25-year-old has ditched his high-flying five-wood in favour of a two-iron.

"It will be an important club," he said. "I might use it four or five times during the round, just as much as the driver. It goes a bit lower," he said. Perfect to stay under the swirling Wirral wind.

Of course, Tiger Woods famously plotted his way to victory here in 2006 hitting two-iron stingers and wielding the big stick only once.

It is a tactic that has not gone unnoticed by McIlroy as he searches for his third major title. But he did not even watch Woods march to victory on television.

"I was actually on holiday in Spain with my parents," he recalled, the break coming just after a European youth tournament in Sotogrande. McIlroy has his eyes set on a rather more prestigious pot.

Or, to be more precise, a Claret Jug.

"I remember growing up and watching Nick Faldo win on TV and even going to a couple when I was a kid.

"It's special. It's the only major played outside the States as well. It's the oldest and probably has the richest history of them all."

He added: "If I was to win my third major here, it would be the third leg of a career Grand Slam as well.

"And not many have done that. Hopefully by the time I hang up my boots, I'd love to be able to get my name on that trophy."

Many wondered if Woods was getting close to hanging up his boots after yet another injury. Yet here he is, back for his first major of the year. McIlroy was quick to praise golf's Caesar.

"Tiger has been the face of our game for nearly 20 years," he said. "It's important to have him competing. He always adds a buzz."

Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, is desperate to get his hands on the Claret Jug to prove he is not a one-hit wonder, no matter what it costs.

"I'd give my left arm for the Claret Jug. I would, actually. That would be the end of my career, but it would be a nice way to go," the Ulsterman joked.

The 34-year-old won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and was joint second at Olympic Club in 2012 before securing his best Open finish of joint fifth a month later at Royal Lytham.

He also led after an opening 66 the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake in 2006 – before fading to 61st – and goes into the 2014 event buoyed by defending his French Open title at Le Golf National a fortnight ago.

"I feel like I'm ready to kick on to the next chapter in my career now and compete and win more major championships," McDowell said.

"I certainly don't want to be a one-hit wonder and I've learned a lot over the last few years since my US Open victory.

"This is my kind of golf course this week and I want to give myself as many opportunities as I can to win majors. Winning regular tournaments is hard enough, winning the majors is something different, something special.

"I'd love a Claret Jug. Probably that and the green jacket (given to Masters champions) are probably neck and neck, but the Claret Jug is probably the one that I feel like I have the game to win."

McDowell insists he would not view his career as a failure if he did not win another major, but added: "I guess what I'm saying is I'm more motivated than ever to win major championships.

"I think I've got the experience and belief and knowledge where if I can play my game, I have the tools to then hang around for 72 holes. I feel like I'm more ready than I've ever been to win another major."

It is therefore just as well that McDowell feels Hoylake is the course on the Open rota which suits his game the best.

"Yeah, I think this and Lytham," added McDowell, who secured the winning point in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

"I like it because you can't take trouble out of play. St Andrews is an example of a golf course where the big boys can just aim as far left as they want and hammer it past trouble.

"I think Lytham forces you into necks. This golf course forces you into little areas.

"It's well bunkered, there's bunkers at 260 and 290 yards where you have to be disciplined off the tee and find fairways and rely on iron play."

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