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US Open: Rory McIlroy wants to show why he's number one

By Kevin Garside

Call me LeBron. Whether he won or lost with the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, LeBron James has indubitably been the man again in the NBA Finals that have gripped America. Similarly unassailable as golf's No 1 player, Rory McIlroy happily accepted the association with basketball's most valuable player, targeting a slam dunk of a fifth major at the US Open this week.

We can ignore the two missed cuts of recent experience, McIlroy said. He is rested and raring for a crack at a Chambers Bay course that so many of his contemporaries love to hate. The negativity surrounding this links layout in the Pacific North-west was drowned in a torrent of optimism in which McIlroy embraced the challenge presented by its monster length and undulating greens.

"I really like the course. I think it sets up well for my game," he said.

"You've got to be aggressive off the tee.

"I think it's a course where you're going to see a lot of guys hit fairways and hit greens, but when you hit greens, you can still be 50, 60 feet away from the pin. So if you can drive the ball well and your long putting is sharp, they are two key things to doing well."

McIlroy delayed his arrival here until Saturday, preferring to head to the streets of London for sightseeing with his new beau rather than belt back across the Atlantic immediately after his early demise at the Irish Open, which followed a missed cut at Wentworth.

After early-morning practice rounds on Sunday and Monday, McIlroy went out for a third look at the course yesterday when the sun was at its height to simulate the late start he anticipates this weekend. How's that for confidence?

"I don't feel like I need to pick up any sort of momentum after the last couple of weeks," he said.

"I played well for my last three tournaments in the States and then I went over to Europe and obviously wasn't quite as good, but my game feels in really good shape and I'm hitting the ball well and I'm confident, so I think it really is just about getting the right game-plan."

McIlroy is effectively beating his chest and inviting his rivals to do their worst. Just like LeBron, in fact.

"I think when LeBron talks about that (being No 1), that's not confidence, that's a fact, I guess, when you look at how he's carried his team in these finals," added McIlroy.

"So if you look at the numbers, you can really see he is the best player in the world.

"And I guess for me I feel the same way when I look at the world rankings and I see my name up at the top.

"If you look back at the last four or five years, I guess I've won more majors than anyone else in that time period. So do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes - and obviously I want to go out every week and try to back that up."

And, despite comparing the hard and fast conditions at Chambers Bay to those for the 2013 Open, McIlroy has promised there will be no repeat of the "brain-dead" performance and missed cut he suffered at Muirfield.

"I'm a completely different player," said McIlroy. "I'm in a completely different place.

"I had no control of my game at that point in time and I feel like I'm pretty much in full control of it at the minute. I can tell you a repeat of that is definitely not going to happen."

McIlroy, who was struggling to adapt to his new clubs in 2013 following his controversial multi-million pound switch to Nike, labelled his play "brain-dead" after covering the back nine at Muirfield in 42 in his opening 79, including putting off the 15th green into a bunker.

It took until December that year for McIlroy to register his first win of the season, after five in 2012, but the 26-year-old then recorded four victories in 2014, including his third and fourth major titles in the Open Championship and US PGA.

McIlroy's Open victory also came at Hoylake and he feels that will suit his game better than the likes of Irish Open venue Royal County Down, where strong winds contributed to a second successive missed cut after two wins in his previous four events.

"I felt like at Hoylake I didn't need to adapt my game that much to how I played it in relatively benign conditions, so after playing at County Down I was just trying to get back to playing my normal game, not really trying to play these little half shots or trying to play the ball along the ground," McIlroy added.

"Even this week I was expecting to have to play the ball along the ground more, but looking at all these elevated greens you're not going to have to do that too much because the greens are so firm.

"I obviously didn't want to miss those two cuts in Europe, but I think that's just the way I'm going to be. I'd rather in a six-tournament period have three wins and three missed cuts than six top-10s. Volatility in golf is actually a good thing. If your good weeks are really good, it far outweighs the bad weeks."

McIlroy was the centre of attention as he tried to complete the career grand slam at the Masters in April, but with Phil Mickelson in that position this week after six runners-up finishes in the US Open, the Holywood man is enjoying a quieter build-up.

"There's not as much attention or much hype," McIlroy added. "I can get here and just do my thing without much worry.

"It's hugely important, a chance to win a second US Open and the fifth major, and that's all important, but there was just so much hype and so much attention around Augusta. This one feels very different."

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