Rory McIlroy hopes his prodigious length off the tee will help him tame Royal Portrush this week and clinch his first major championship win since 2014.
The Northern Irishman is leaving the door open to an attacking approach, after feeling like the strategy paid off for him at Carnoustie last year when he finished runner-up behind winner Francesco Molinari.
Portrush measures an imposing 7,300 yards, although links courses tend to play shorter than their yardages due to firm fairways that afford plenty of roll.
While long hitters don’t necessarily have an advantage, McIlroy sees it differently.
“Carnoustie last year I didn’t envisage hitting that many drivers and then I got there the week of the tournament,” he told Reuters.
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) July 13, 2019
McIlroy said when he arrived at Carnoustie he realised it might be worth taking some risks off the tee, because a wayward drive might not be as punishing as he thought.
“I think what they’ve started to do at Open championships, to accommodate spectators, they’ve taken a lot of the gorse bushes away so Carnoustie last year I hit driver everywhere,” he said.
“I’m not expecting to do that at Portrush (but) it might be a case of like Carnoustie last year where I (arrive) thinking I’m only going to hit three or four drivers during the round but in actual fact it could be more like seven or eight, or nine or 10.”
McIlroy can take heart from the fact that he has played Portrush far more often than most of his rivals – probably somewhere between 50 and 100 times – although only a few of those have come since the site’s major redesign two years ago.
McIlroy famously shattered the course record as a 16-year-old back in 2005 at the North of Ireland Championship with a stunning 61, and admits he still finds it hard to think of the par-three known as ‘Calamity Corner’ as the 16th hole, because he is still so used to it being the 14th.
“It’s just so hard for me to wrap my head around the new layout,” he said.
“I keep calling them the old hole numbers.”
It’s been five years without a major now for McIlroy, a long time for a player of his caliber, and it’s not giving anything away to suggest he’s desperate to win another one.
“If I’m being honest, it would obviously mean the world to me,” he admitted.
“But just like winning Hoylake meant the world to me as well. Just getting my hands on that Claret Jug again would be a huge accomplishment.”
If anything, McIlroy is trying to play down the significance of the occasion, probably in an attempt to try and take some of the pressure off himself.
“I think it’s going to feel normal. It’s going to feel like just another Open Championship.
“I’ve played in a few of them now. I know what to expect. Might be a little louder.
“Atmosphere might be a bit different but the objective is the same, to go there and play good golf and hopefully give myself a chance to win the Claret Jug.”
The Northern Irishman won the last of his four major titles in 2014.
McIlroy has struggled to perform to his best in the PGA Tour’s fan-free environment since it returned in June.
Rory McIlroy says he doesn’t lose any sleep over his lack of major wins.
The American has apologised and accepted the European Tour’s decision.
Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm don’t mind that the PGA Championship will be played without spectators.
The American is aiming for a third straight triumph in the tournament at Harding Park.
The 44-year-old has had just four competitive rounds since mid-February due to injury and the coronavirus pandemic.
He has good memories of Harding Park and is hoping he can be in contention for a second major title.
The American pair opened strongly on Sunday to eke out a gap on the chasing pack.