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Rory steps out to bring home the glory

Pressure on but McIlroy's sights are set on making it a good year for the roses

Front foot: Rory on his final practice round yesterday
Front foot: Rory on his final practice round yesterday

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy faces one of the greatest mental tests of his career when The Open's epic journey continues at Royal Portrush today.

His quality and talent is unquestionable but whether he can ride the wave of home emotion in front of the second biggest crowd in the history of the event - 237,750 are expected this week - remains the big question.

The great Dunluce Links reek of history but while McIlroy insists he's in town to smell the roses and enjoy his week, how he deals with the pressure on his shoulders is key.

"I'm just treating this like any other Open Championship," McIlroy insisted. "I've played well here for the last few years. I've played well on this golf course.

"So I've just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough."

Despite all that, he admitted that the enormity of the occasion is something he will simply have to embrace.

"I can't just put the blinkers on and pretend that's not all going on," he said. "One of my mantras this week is, 'look around and smell the roses'.

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"This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general. And to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me; right? This is bigger than me."

Padraig Harrington sees the Holywood star (30) as the hot favourite given his form this year but wonders if he can forget about the crowd and using his driving prowess to roar to victory and end his five-year major drought with Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm or World No.1 Brooks Koepka all capable of matching him.

"I think his game is exceptional this year," Harrington said when asked about McIlroy's form. "It's just become tougher to win a major. As good as he is, he has to look over his shoulder and worry about how DJ plays, how Brooks plays.

"Back in 2011, there wasn't anything like that - he wasn't scared of anybody.

"There's too many good players up there now. I think home pressure, I don't know if that's a good thing but I do think that this week suits a good driver of the ball and he's a great driver of the ball.

"Guys who are good drivers will love this track. This course suits him."

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