US is wide Open for McIlroy
Anyone who's watched coverage on a popular satellite sports channel of late can't have missed the trail for this week's US Open.
There's Tiger Woods battling away on one leg to win the title at Torrey Pines 12 months ago.
And who's that ‘European Tour sensation' they reckon will lead the challenge from the rest of the world? Why, it's none other than our own Rory McIlroy.
In anyone else barely out of their teens, it would be a ludicrous assertion. Not only has he never seen Bethpage Black outside the confines of a television screen — this is his first ever US Open.
Just a week ago McIlroy was at home to open the Golfing Union of Ireland's fantastic new teaching facility at Greenmount and, yes, he did catch that ad on TV at home.
“”I thought it was pretty funny, to be honest, “ he said to me during a phone call from New York City this weekend.
“But if Sky Sports think more people are going to watch because of me, well, I'm not going to complain about it.
“Really though, I'm not going to pay much attention to things like that; I just get on with my own game in my own way.”
It's not rocket science that the USGA guards par more jealously than Fido with a particularly juicy bone. Long tracks, thick rough quick greens, and McIlroy has been preparing accordingly.
“I've been experimenting with quite a few different wedges in the bag and I know that if it goes in the rough you take your medicine,” he says.
“You’ve got to accept it, hit it out sideways and get it on the green.
“You just have to keep remembering that par is always going to be a good score and that it's not always about making birdies or eagles all the time.
“This week I've spent a lot of time with (coach) Michael Bannon and I've been hitting a lot of wedges into greens.”
McIlroy gets his first glimpse of the menacing black course at the New York state club in his first practice round today — although having watched the titanic battle in 2002 between Woods and Phil Mickelson, he's pretty sure what to expect.
“From seeing it on TV at home I remember it being long and tough,” he added.
“In particular the 10th and the 12th had such a long carry to the fairways that the guys were having trouble making it, so that's obviously something to look out for.”
His eventful debut at the Masters was an eye-opener in April and since returning to Europe from his first couple of forays to the States, he's slowly been gathering momentum again.
“My form has been good, I've missed only one cut in Europe all year, and I was really pleased with my performances at the European Open and at Wentworth,” he continues.
“Of the courses I've played recently the London Club when it was really windy would have been about the toughest I've played and I felt I coped with that pretty well.
“I think playing a US Open will be about staying patient as much as anything else. Nothing heroic, just keeping a level head.”
Caddie JP Fitzgerald could be crucial to that. He's been there before with Darren Clarke amongst others and has a important role to play this week.
“It's always going to be my call as the player, but JP is invaluable,” says McIlroy.
“It might be club selection, it might be how to play a shot, a draw of fade, high or low. He gives me all the options and we take it from there.”
After his come from behind victory at the Memorial Tournament last Sunday in Texas, Woods is naturally the overwhelming favourite this week to successfully defend his title.
“I just set out to stick as close to Tiger as I can and if I can do that, I won't be too far away,” admits McIlroy.
“I just can't wait to get out there and get started.”