ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy is at a crossroads of sorts.
After his last British Open win in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, the Ulsterman went on to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and then a week later the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, giving him three consecutive victories.
And then, regarding majors, a dry hole.
McIlroy missed the last Open at the Old Course in 2015 with a right ankle injury sustained playing soccer with friends.
So outside of the playing in the odd Dunhill Links, which includes Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course in a three-course rotation, McIlroy has played the Old in conditions like this week only in 2010 when he was anointed the winner after a 63 in the first round.
“'I’d have to watch highlights to remember what I did or how I played or where I made birdies,” McIlroy said. “The only thing I remember about the 63 is hitting a 6-iron into 3 feet at 17 and missing the putt. Then I birdied the last, I remember thinking that was a really good opportunity for the first person ever to shoot 62 in a major, and I didn't quite get it done. So, you can always be better.”
McIlroy would shoot an 80 the next day in conditions similar to what players practiced in Tuesday, a combination of windy conditions with a hard and fast golf course.
That combination creates an Old Course with some teeth and forces more tactical thinking than what had been described by some as the pushover course on the rota.
”Laying back, giving yourself full shots into some of these greens, playing the angles a little bit more, I think that's going to be important this week,” McIlroy said, potentially shelving the bomb-and-gouge method. ”If you hit a lot of drivers, you may get close to some of these greens, and it would be advantageous to lay back and give yourself fuller wedge shots into some of these greens.”
Ranked second in the world, McIlroy has enjoyed a solid year with seven top 10s including a win last month at the RBC Canadian Open.
His major record since his last win at the 2014 PGA is also impressive with 16 top 10 finishes, including three this year with a second at the Masters, eighth at the PGA and fifth last month at the U.S. Open in Brookline.
“I'm playing well. I'm in good form. My confidence in my game is as high as it's been in quite a while,” McIlroy said. “I can't go in here thinking that this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament. I've got to string four good rounds together, and hopefully at the end of the week, that's good enough to win.”
McIlroy’s preparation for this week’s Open excluded playing the Scottish Open and instead playing in the J.P. McManus Pro-Am, a couple of rounds at Ballybunion with Tiger Woods, then back to Adare Manor for some practice before coming to St. Andrews on Sunday.
In his first 25 majors, McIlroy won four major titles. With the relaxed buildup to this week’s Open, McIlroy believes he has a better chance of breaking a current streak of 30 consecutive majors without a victory.
“I'm certainly not at the reminiscing point of my career yet,” McIlroy said. “I'm very proud of my achievements, and I'm proud of what I've achieved in the game, but I know that there's still a lot more that I want to achieve and a lot more that I can achieve.”