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Rory McIlroy is aiming to achieve the rare feat of retaining his US Open title

Rory McIlroy is aiming to achieve the rare feat of retaining his US Open title

Rory McIlroy is aiming to achieve the rare feat of retaining his US Open title

Rory McIlroy had more than just his US Open title defence to prepare for on Tuesday - there was also a trip to the baseball.

Not just to watch the San Francisco Giants, but to throw the ceremonial first pitch before their game against the Houston Astros. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman, an eight-stroke winner in Washington last year with a record 16-under-par total, is now trying to become the first player to retain the championship since Curtis Strange in 1989.

Tiger Woods has tried three times without success, finishing 12th in 2001, 20th in 2003 and sixth in 2009. He said: "It's not easy to do - this is probably the hardest test that we play all year."

"We're playing different venues each and every year. It's not like Augusta National where we're playing the same golf course, so what Curtis did - and then contended again in '90 - is awfully impressive. It's such a big test and such a grind. Some venues fit your eye, some don't."

McIlroy had missed three halfway cuts in a row prior to last week's event in Memphis, where he was joint leader with a hole to play, but went in the water and double-bogeyed to drop to seventh.

"Last week was good for his confidence," added Woods. "He did some work at home from what I hear and went into Memphis and played great. It's going to serve him well this week."

McIlroy said his big decision for the baseball was "whether to lob it or go for a fast one. I've thrown a few golf balls and a medicine ball, but I think I might get a bit of a lesson from a pitcher when I get there."

As for the possibility of the crowd giving him some stick for his effort he added: "I would definitely rather be booed at a baseball game than at a golf course."

Come Thursday the world number two is planning on a more attacking policy than he initially thought he would be employing. After practising with Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell he said: "I reckon I'm going to use any driver eight or nine times. I'm coming in with the mindset that I'm going to attack the golf course and play aggressively when I can.

"Obviously you have to be smart, but you've got to take your chances around here. This golf course gives you a few opportunities where you can make birdies. The rough is not as bad as maybe in previous years where you can get away with some tee shots.so really you just need to know your way around the golf course and know where you can miss it."

PA