Rory McIlroy has chosen a quiet build up to The Open in the hope it can help break his major drought – so will silence be golden for red-hot Northern Irishman?

new balance


A little after 7am on Tuesday, Rory McIlroy walked to the third tee at Hoylake for a spot of practice. If he was pursuing the sounds of silence, as has been his habit this week, then it didn’t quite work out.

Even at an early hour, under cloudy skies, he was met by a crowd of a couple of hundred and it would grow significantly through the morning.

He played from three to 18 with Shane Lowry and he was pretty sharp. A few drives pulled left, a few putts stayed out, Lowry maybe made a few more, but McIlroy had a spring in his step. He was buoyant. Happy. He had a buzz around him. And it is not hard to see why, even if it has become increasingly difficult to extract his precise thoughts around the lingering question: has the time come for major No 5?

As with the US Open last month, where he finished second, McIlroy chose to cancel his main pre-tournament press conference here, which was scheduled for around the time he navigated the back nine of his loop with Lowry.

He would later say in a broadcast interview: ‘I’m just trying to keep it as simple as possible, forget all the noise, forget everything else and just go out and enjoy myself more than anything else.’

Rory McIlroy chose to cancel his main pre-tournament press conference ahead of The Open

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Rory McIlroy chose to cancel his main pre-tournament press conference ahead of The Open

Bookmakers have him as favourite on his return to the links where he won The Open in 2014

Bookmakers have him as favourite on his return to the links where he won The Open in 2014

The world No 2 played a practice round with Shane Lowry at Hoylake on Tuesday

The world No 2 played a practice round with Shane Lowry at Hoylake on Tuesday

It’s a logical and understandable desire, though as with everything in golf, and especially with McIlroy, it is easier said than done. Forgetting the noise around his sport’s political shenanigans has been one challenge for him; forgetting the longer-standing narrative around his relationship with the majors is probably far tougher.

That he has arrived on the Wirral in such fine form has only raised the interest around the world No 2, because for all the false dawns since his fourth major win in 2014, some serious momentum is building in his game and mood. It is with sound reasoning the bookmakers have him as favourite on his return to the links where he won The Open nine years ago.

Those warm associations help, of course, as does his victory in Scotland at the weekend, particularly for the manner in which he pulled it off, with crisper wedges and his closing flourish in horrendous conditions.

But the sharpest indicator is found in the wider patterning of McIlroy’s results: going beyond that win in Scotland, he was seventh at the Travelers Championship, second at the US Open, ninth at the Canadian Open, seventh at the Memorial and seventh at the US PGA Championship, when he had almost zero confidence in his swing.

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The feeling around the range and practice grounds at Hoylake is that McIlroy has never been so close. ‘I couldn’t ask for better preparation,’ McIlroy said on Tuesday. ‘The way I played the last two holes [in Scotland] was an amazing finish and a perfect way to come into this week.

‘I’ve had a great nine years and won a lot of tournaments but the big four have eluded me. Hopefully this week that’s something I can change.’

He added: ‘Regardless of whether I won or not in Scotland, I would have come in here confident with the way I’ve played over the last sort of month and a half. My game feels like it’s in good shape, but seeing the way I played last week and being able to control my ball in pretty difficult conditions, I feel good about that coming into this week.’

As ever, it is natural to wonder if self-assurance on a Tuesday translates to success on a Sunday, particularly when you weigh the scar tissue McIlroy has acquired since his last major. That would apply as much to the final round at St Andrews last year, when he led by two going into the back nine, as it does the US Open last month, when he fell one short of Wyndham Clark, having been unable to wedge his way close enough for easier putts.

McIlroy is hoping to bring a close to a nine-year wait to lift another major at the scene of his 2014 Open victory

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McIlroy is hoping to bring a close to a nine-year wait to lift another major at the scene of his 2014 Open victory

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Those near-misses have become a recurring feature of his career and each would seem to raise the mental hurdle a little higher – at last count, he had tallied 19 top-10s in the 34 majors played since his last victory. Clearly it is an astonishing body of work. But it is also a source of escalating bewilderment around golf’s most talented ball-striker since Tiger Woods.

Perhaps this will be the week, then. As the finest driver in the game, and assisted by rough that has not grown as much as hoped, he can certainly bomb his way around this 7,300-yard course. But smaller clubs win tournaments and so the onus will again be on his wedges and putter. Those clubs and a silent mind will be key.

new balance



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