Rory McIlroy has to unlock The Chamber of Secrets at the US Open this week
Rory McIlroy grew up with Tiger Woods’ career achievements pinned to his bedroom wall.
Now he wakes ups with his own goals burning a hole in his brain and he’s got just one thing between his ears between now and the end of August — win major No 5.
The world No 1 might have missed the cut in the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open his Rory Foundation hosted at Royal County Down. But those were clearly one-off performances provoked by fatigue on courses that were always likely to cause him problems.
With his caddie JP Fitzgerald now a key member of his team, he’ll be relying on him to unlock the secrets of Chambers Bay — a course nobody really knows. McIlroy will bring his assassin’s instinct to a course that will reward big hitting and short game creativity — two aspects of the game he dominates.
And even if the course and his rivals pose him problems, McIlroy’s determination to keep pace with the history books is sure to drive him onwards.
Amused when asked about a start to the year that brought a win in the Dubai Desert Classic before his wins in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play and the Wells Fargo Championship, he said: “Three wins already this season. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed if I wasn’t to win one of the next three majors. I think that’s what determines a good or a great season for me. So there’s three majors left this season, and I’d love to add to my tally.”
A visit to Chambers Bay this weekend is all McIlroy needs to take any anxiousness away about the venue.
And with his batteries recharged he’s going to be a handful for the opposition.
The US Open is run by the United States Golf Association or USGA and while its Executive Director Mike Davis will be setting up a tough test, McIlroy shot down the top man’s suggestion that a player who gets just a handful of practice rounds has no chance of winning next week.
“With the way the Tour is, no one is going to go out there and play 10 practice rounds.
“ I’m going to go up a little early. I’m going to play a couple practice rounds this weekend and then I’ll probably play another, you know, 18 holes. So I’ll play three practice rounds.
“At the end of the day there’s going to be someone lifting the trophy at the end of the week. It’s a bit of an unknown to most people so you have to prepare.
“But I think you can fall into the trap of trying to over-prepare. You can do all the preparation you want but if you don’t go out there and execute the shots on the week, all that preparation doesn’t mean anything. I’d much rather have my game in good shape going in there and play practice rounds the way I usually would. I think that will do well for me.”
Just a handful of players who will tee-up in Washington State have any knowledge of the course.
Patrick Reed also played and so did current Masters champion Jordan Spieth, who was then just 16 and shot a second round 83 to miss the Chambers Bay cut by six shots.
“The course was ridiculously difficult,” Spieth said at the time.
McIlroy has won in reasonably firm conditions before, notably in the BMW PGA at Wentworth and The Open at Royal Liverpool last year.
But he’s yet to conquer a true rock ’n roll track and keep his cool. His frustration has gotten the better of him a few times already this season — he threw a club into a lake at Trump Doral, lost patience chasing Spieth in the Masters and admitted to getting angry with his poor play at Wentworth.
Fully rested, he’s likely to be as cool as a cucumber. Whether he can switch on his game and conquer the unknown to order is another matter. If the best player in the game runs into the occasional problem, he need only remind himself that lesser mortals are probably having an even tougher time.