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The British Open Returns to Royal Liverpool, Which Is a Blessing and Curse for Rory McIlroy

The Ulsterman won the last Open at Hoylake in 2014 but hasn't won any majors in the years since.

HOYLAKE, England — The Dee Estuary sits adjacent to Royal Liverpool Golf Club, if not always visible then certainly within view when playing certain holes, most certainly the 17th.

Across the water is Wales and outside the gates is the bustling town of Hoylake, host to the British Open this week, the 13th time the venue is hosting the world’s oldest tournament.

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Bobby Jones won here on his way to the Grand Slam in 1930 and Tiger Woods won a memorable Open in 2006, his first victory after the death of his father, Earl. That was the first Open contested over the venerable links since 1967, a 39-year wait due to infrastructure issues that now have been alleviated to great effect: the course is among the R&A’s biggest revenue producers for the Open.

Royal Liverpool has its share of history and the latest was made by Rory McIlroy, who won the last Open played here in 2014.

That is both a blessing and curse as McIlroy this week attempts to win a fifth major championship.

Certainly the good vibes from nine years ago, the six-shot 54-hole lead, the two-shot victory over Rickie Fowler, the strong display of power and finesse are a nice boost. A memorable story from that week was the bet his father, Gerry, had at placed in 2004 in which he and some friends wagered £200 that Rory would win the Open within 10 years. They got 500-1 odds. Do the math.

Two weeks later, McIlroy won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, then followed up a week later with a victory at the PGA Championship—three straight wins, two majors and a long future to add to those totals.

You’d have probably gotten similar odds that within nine years McIlroy would not have added to that major championship haul.

He’s been a frequent winner, capturing FedEx Cup titles and DP World Race to Dubai trophies along the way but that elusive major has not materialized. He won the Genesis Scottish Open on Sunday with a brilliant birdie-birdie finish for his first win in six months. The wait is a blip compared to the major championship void.

There was a chance last month at the U.S. Open, a better chance last summer at St. Andrews.

A 14th-hole bogey on a par-5 was the difference between McIlroy possibly winning the U.S. Open and Wyndham Clark taking the title. A guy named Cam Smith had a lot to do with McIlroy winning at the Home of Golf, a final-round 64 securing the Claret Jug, while McIlroy did not do much wrong, hitting every green in regulation and shooting 70—still two too many.

"When I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet," McIlroy said after the U.S. Open. "I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship."

There have been 19 top-10s in majors since his last victory at the '14 PGA and a good bit of off-the-course attention in the past year due to McIlroy's front-facing role with the PGA Tour and its fight against LIV Golf.

McIlroy has tried to distance himself from all the rhetoric of late but couldn’t help but take a shot last week when asked about the proposal disclosed that would have seen him given a LIV team franchise. McIlroy said he’d retire before playing LIV Golf.

This will be another week to focus attention on the golf. It is the last major championship of 2023 and McIlroy is playing well enough to win. If not? It’s a long wait until the Masters, where other demons linger.