Rory McIlroy: Why I have to be a bit selfish to win Open Championship at Royal Portrush
Just four weeks from now Rory McIlroy could be tracking towards one of the greatest moments in the history of Northern Ireland sport. The stands at Royal Portrush have already been erected, the greens are manicured to within an inch of perfection and 200,000 fans will pass through the gates craving a finish for the ages - the little maestro from Holywood painting his masterpiece.
McIlroy knows the level of expectation and is laying the foundations for a granite mindset that can feel the full force of a fever pitch crowd along with the beguiling, unpredictable climatic conditions and respond with defiance as he seeks to lift a second Claret Jug.
He freely concedes it would be the most special of victories if he were to be found standing on the 18th green with the famous old trophy, surrounded by an adoring public. For all the hyperbole, McIlroy knows that the romance and dream-like quality of such a success can only be gained by the approach of a cold-eyed assassin.
Easier said than done, as he knows only too well having strived, as the host, for Irish Open glory - single-handedly transforming the tournament into a European Tour gem.
"You have to realise that, as much as you want to win for other people and for a lot of other different things, the number one thing is you want to win for yourself. It took me a few years playing Irish Opens and stuff to realise that. Golf is a selfish sport, and you want to win for yourself. You want to have that under your belt, and everything else is just a by-product of that," said McIlroy.
"If you can really harness that support you're getting and use it to your advantage and not feel like it's a burden, then it can only help.
"At this point in my career, I want to win for me. It's not about trying to do something in front of friends and family. I've been fortunate enough to win an Open Championship before, and I'd dearly love to win another one. I think it obviously will make it more special if I could win at Portrush, but I just have to treat it like every other Open Championship that I've played the last few years, and my record in The Open the last few years has been better than pretty much any other tournament I've played.
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"I just have to go in with the same mindset as in other Opens I've played in, and I just have to harness that support and use it the best way I can. There's nothing that I'd like more than to lift that Claret Jug in front of all my friends and family from back home and all the kids it may inspire."
Over the past decade on Tour, McIlroy has clearly played a key role in bringing a new generation to the sport. A swashbuckling warrior, he has amassed a fortune and four Major championships and he is fully aware of how a magical moment can spark a fire of belief.
"For me, the one that really stands out in my mind was Tiger (Woods) winning the Masters in '97. That was my sort of inspirational moment in the game, that was when I knew I wanted to try to emulate what he did. So that was my big inspirational moment. I think you just have to go about your job and do the best you can and hopefully set a good example and be a good role model. I feel like I try my best to do all those things, and hopefully that does inspire the next generation of golfers," he said.
"I don't go home as much as I used to, but the impact that I feel I've had - and not just me, it's Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington and all the other Irish golfers... the impact that they've had on junior golfers back home, I think, has been incredible."
McIlroy, who yesterday officially announced the introduction of his groundbreaking GolfPass membership in the UK in conjunction with American broadcaster NBC, has had a very encouraging campaign in 2019 with victory in the Players Championship and more recently the Canadian Open allied to numerous top 10 finishes. It would all seem to point to the 30-year-old pushing hard for that moment of destiny - no doubt helped by those fond memories of the time he sparkled with a course record at just 16.
"The 61 at Portrush... it didn't really feel like a very special round of golf until I made the turn. I played the front nine at three under par, which is a good front nine of golf, but not - you're not really thinking about challenging the course record at that point. Then I eagled 10, the way it used to be, the old layout, which is now the 12th or the 13th. And then I birdied 11 as well. So then all of a sudden I got to six under through 11, and you're thinking, okay, this could be pretty special," he added.
"Then I parred the next two holes. I didn't birdie 13, which was a good chance, but then I birdied the last five in a row.
"It's funny, like I keep thinking back, in that stretch of golf, there's two tough holes, which would have been the 14th, which is now the 16th, Calamity Corner, and then the old 16th, which is now the 18th. And I hit three great shots into those two holes, and I think those two holes, in a few weeks time, are going to be pivotal in the result of the Championship.
"It's going to be, for the most part, the same golf course that I've known for a few years, but at the same time, with the different layout and the different holes, I'm going to have to, just like everyone else in the field, sort of learn how to play it this new way.
"I've played a lot of golf up until this point, and I've played a lot of good golf. I think it's been as good a start to the year as I've ever had.
"I really believe I can treat The Open just like I treat any of the other Opens. I didn't know if I'd ever have an opportunity to do that. So, yeah, it's going to be a massive week for golf, for the country, and for me personally. I have to go out there with a good mindset and obviously not let the occasion get the better of me and hopefully produce some good golf and give myself a chance."
• GOLFPASS is a first-of-its-kind, direct-to-consumer subscription, which offers opportunities to play more golf and comprehensive tools to improve any golfer's game. A GolfPass membership is available in UK and Republic of Ireland at GOLFPASS.co.uk