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Smiles better: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods during a practice round yesterday

Smiles better: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods during a practice round yesterday

AP

Smiles better: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods during a practice round yesterday

Rory McIlroy must reignite his fire and rediscover his driving prowess if he's to emerge from his mini-slump and challenge FedExCup leader Dustin Johnson in the BMW Championship in Chicago.

The Ulsterman has slithered from the top of the world rankings to No.4 after going seven straight starts without a top-10 finish - his longest streak without one since 2009.

Twice a winner of the FedExCup, and the current holder, the Holywood star (31) has made much of his struggles to adjust to life in the PGA Tour bubble, admitting that he's "been going through the motions" and found it difficult to generate some "intensity and some sort of fire".

As a result, he's fallen from eighth to 12th in the FedExCup race and needs a good week at Olympia Fields to go to next week's Tour Championship with a realistic chance of claiming the $15m (£11.3m) jackpot.

Missing the fans is one thing, but missing fairways proved costly for McIlroy in Boston last week and, after arriving late at the venue, he cancelled his media conference yesterday to play a full practice round.

Tiger Woods is expecting a Major-style examination at the 2003 US Open venue, where he needs a top-four finish to make the top 30 who qualify for next week's finale at East Lake.

"This golf course is set up more like a US Open than it is a regular tour event, but this is the play-offs. It's sup­posed to be hard," said Woods, who does not expect a repeat of Johnson's 30-under-par winning total in Boston on Sunday.

"Last week I think might have been a little outlier because of the weather. The greens were soft and receptive, and the majority of the field went low and then DJ went absurdly low.

"That won't be the case this week. Pars will be at a premium, putting the ball in the fairway and trying to keep the ball in the correct spots."

McIlroy (6.58pm UK time with Xander Schauffele and Brendon Todd) certainly has the power to challenge big hitters Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who won the 2015 US Amateur at the venue, 30 miles south of downtown Chicago.

"There are a few holes I noticed that, in some of the conversations I've had with some of the guys, that if you can carry the ball about 315, 320 (yards) this golf course gets really, really opened up," said Woods, who was 20th behind Jim Furyk as defending US Open champion 17 years ago. "But for me I can't quite carry it that far, so it'll be about putting the ball in play and playing from there."

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson became the 20th player to win on his PGA Tour Champions debut with a wire-to-wire victory in the Charles Schwab Series.

Mickelson carded a closing 66 at Ozarks National to finish 22 under par, four shots clear of Tim Petrovic.

The five-time Major winner's total of 191 equalled the tour's 54-hole scoring record previously recorded by five players, most recently Rocco Mediate in 2013.

Belfast Telegraph