Rory McIlroy declared it love at first sight as he gave Winged Foot a massive thumbs up ahead of his bid to end his six-year Major drought in the US Open.
Just 15 months ago, the 2011 champion described his recent US Open record as “pathetic” and suggested there “could be a problem” for the USGA if they couldn’t “redeem themselves” from the set-up mistakes that were made at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills.
He toned that down after finishing ninth at Pebble Beach last year and last night he was smitten by his first sight of the venue famous for the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot”.
“It’s awesome,” McIlroy declared before heading out for nine holes. “I’ve never been here before. This is the first time I’ve had a look at it. I played 18 holes yesterday and loved what I saw.
“It’s hard, obviously, but I think it’s very, very fair. I said to someone yesterday when I played Oakmont for the first time, my initial reaction was, ‘This place is impossible’. This course gives you a few more chances if you miss it.”
The Ulsterman has no fears of another USGA bloodbath, adding: “Something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf.”
Having become a father for the first time earlier this month, he reported that mother Erica and daughter Poppy were well, adding: “I actually changed the first two diapers, so I’m very proud of that. I’ve got my hands dirty; put it that way.”
Winged Foot was also less daunting than expected — a fair test and not the beast that has been “hyped up”.
“This is a wonderful golf course, and I think one of the best that I’ve played for a US Open,” the Co Down man said.
“I thought I was going to have to hit driver, five-iron into every par-four, and it’s not quite like that. There’s still places where precision beats power, and that’s been the case in the past.
“But there aren’t as many drivers off tees as I thought there would be, which is good. You’ve got to put your ball into position and then once you do that, that’s the tough part, and then getting it onto the right levels of these greens, leaving it below the hole, giving yourself decent putts.
“This place tests every single aspect of your game, so I don’t think I could single out the toughest thing that you need to do. It’s all pretty tough.”
Getting a good start is now key for the four-time Major winner, who is 16-over-par for his first rounds in his last eight Major starts, compared to 23-under-par for rounds two, three and four.
“I probably just put a little too much pressure on myself,” he said. “Shooting a bad score on the first day and putting yourself under even more pressure... I think that’s been the big thing.”
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, has revealed he had not fully grieved for his father when he missed the cut in the 2006 US Open.
Following the death of his father Earl on May 3 that year, Woods returned to competitive action at Winged Foot following a nine-week lay-off and, perhaps unsurprisingly, shot 12-over-par to miss the cut for the first time in 38 Majors as a professional.
“When I didn’t win The Masters that year, that was really tough to take because that was the last event my dad was ever going to watch me play,” Woods said. “When I got ready for this event, I was not prepared to play and still dealing with the death of my dad.”