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Rory McIlroy: Why flying first round is key to US Open success at Pebble Beach

Rory McIlroy speaks to the press ahead of his first round at Pebble Beach.
Rory McIlroy speaks to the press ahead of his first round at Pebble Beach.
Raring to go: Rory McIlroy during last night’s practice round at Pebble Beach

By Phil Casey

A buoyant Rory McIlroy has targeted a flying start to the US Open as he tries to create history by ending his major drought at Pebble Beach.

Victories in the Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in 2014 make McIlroy the last player to win a PGA Tour event immediately before winning a major, but no player has ever followed a Tour victory with another at the US Open. The 30-year-old can achieve that feat this week following his dominant victory in the RBC Canadian Open.

But the former world number one acknowledges he will need to reproduce the fast starts which have led to all four of his previous major titles if he is to claim win number five on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.

"I had a chat with Johnny Miller at the champions dinner and he said if you look at the history of major championships, that first round is so important," said McIlroy.

McIlroy added: “I said I know. My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year put me a little bit behind the eight ball and it’s hard to catch up, especially as major championships are played on the toughest courses and you start to chase on those really tough courses, it’s hard to do that.

“The majors that I’ve won I’ve started every single one of them really well and I think that’s sort of what’s held me back a little bit.

“If I can take that freedom that I played with on Saturday and Sunday last week and put that into tomorrow and get off to a good start, I’ll be hopefully right in the tournament from the get-go and stay there.”

McIlroy admits it would be “liberating and satisfying” to end his major drought and follow in the footsteps of fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell.

G-Mac lifted the trophy at Pebble Beach in 2010.

“Confidence is important for everyone. I don’t think you can play to the best of your ability if you don’t have confidence and belief in yourself,” McIlroy added.

“But I think the last time I felt this free has to go back to maybe that run at the (FedEx Cup) play-offs in 2016. I felt really good. And then going into the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, I felt like that was a real good stretch of golf that I played.”

McIlroy’s victory in Canada made him one of the favourites for the title alongside defending champion Brooks Koepka, two-time AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Dustin Johnson and Masters champion Tiger Woods.

Koepka is looking to become only the second player in tournament history to win the US Open in three straight years, while Johnson is chasing redemption after blowing a three-shot lead with a closing 82 in 2010.

Woods, who won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 shots, missed the cut in the US PGA at Bethpage but returned to action with a top-10 finish in the Memorial Tournament.

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