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McIlroy has a Major on his mind

By Peter Hutcheon

Rory McIlroy is in full swing to launch his US Open challenge at Pebble Beach.

The 21-year-old is gunning for his first Major title and having tasted success already in America this year, he's hungry for more.

“Watching Tiger Woods win at Pebble Beach by a million shots was one of the most amazing things I ever saw,” he says.

“I've never actually been to Pebble, but I've seen it so many times on television, that I can't wait to actually get there.

“I think the USGA aren't setting up courses as tough as they were a few years ago and they are giving guys chances to make birdies.”

Despite not challenging at last week's BMW PGA at Wentworth, McIlroy insists his game is right at its peak.

“I was very happy with the way I played last week, just not with the scoring,” he said.

“My swing is very good and I've been working hard with Michael (Bannon) on shots in from 50 or 60 yards.

“The changes to the clubs this year means that the ball won't grip on the greens as it used to — it will take an extra bounce forward instead.

“It means that instead of ending up three or four feet away from the hole, it's 10 feet and obviously that's going to make a huge difference.

“I've been working on wedges with Michael a lot over the past few weeks and I feel my wedge play is really pretty good at the moment.”

McIlroy was in Fermanagh yesterday at the launch of this year's Lough Erne challenge where he will partner Darren Clarke (below) representing Northern Ireland against Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry for the Republic.

“There will be more than just bragging rights at stake,” he said.

“National pride will be on the line and I hope the fans will come out and support me on the day as I'm sure they will.

“This will be my first time playing with Clarkie and I'm really looking forward to that.

“I always play against him in practice rounds so it will be nice to play with him for a change.

“It's a relaxed sort of thing the week after the Open and we're coming here to enjoy ourselves.”

McIlroy's breakthrough win on the PGA Tour at Quail Hollow has filled him with confidence for the three remaining Majors, starting next month at Pebble Beach.

“The best way to be competitive going into a Major is to be in contention the week before,” he said.

“That way when it comes to the crunch you know how to handle the situation because you are used to it.

“I finished 10th last time out at the US Open which was good for my first attempt and I'd like to go a bit closer this time around.”

At Wentworth last week McIlroy perhaps threw caution to the wind a little too often after making such a poor start around Ernie Els' new tougher set-up.

But he says he knows the key to success at a Major is patience.

“You know you are going to miss a fairway here and there and be left with no choice but to chop it out sideways,” he said.

“So then you have shots of 100, 120 yards to the green and those are tough ups and down to make for par.

“But you have to be able to do that if you are going to be in contention to win,” he stressed.

Although he has that first PGA win under his belt, McIlroy knows the real hard work for the season is just beginning. He really fancies his chances of an Open victory at St Andrews in July and he has his heart set on emulating Lowry and clinching an Irish Open title.

“I've never been to Killarney and that's one I'm really looking forward to,” he said.

“It's going to be busy with France, Loch Lomond, then the Open and the Irish Open so that will be four in a row in Europe.

“Then it's back to the States, then hopefully it'll be the Ryder Cup and then the FedEx Cup back in America.”

Tickets for this year's Lough Erne Challenge are being sold for £30 — £10 less than last year — and go on sale on Monday, May 31.

They can be bought through and

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