Past champion Rory McIlroy insists there’s still plenty of pressure on his shoulders as he returns to Dubai Duty Free Irish Open action for the first time since 2018.
McIlroy faced the media on Tuesday at Mount Juliet, buoyed by his tied-seventh result at the US Open a fortnight ago.
The 2016 tournament champion, who hit two of the best fairway woods you’ll see down the stretch to capture his first and only Irish Open title at the K Club, might be free of the hosting duties he had back then, and the burden that was alleviated when he finally got his hands on the famous piece of crystal, but he still holds pre-tournament favouritism on a course he likens to the Ryder Cup course he won on five years ago, and with that comes pressure in itself.
“I think there’s always going to be a bit of added pressure when you come back and play an Irish Open, especially obviously being from here, but also being the favourite for the tournament and all that sort of stuff,” McIlroy said.
“So there’s always those sort of pressures. But I feel like as long as I just stick to my game plan and my own expectations and try to get the most out of myself, then that’s all I can do.
“I’m looking forward to this week. I feel like the Irish Open that I won at The K Club, it’s a pretty similar set up to what it is here. Might be a little firmer this week because of the weather but decent parkland courses, it’s something familiar to me. It’s what I’ve been playing for the last couple years. Yeah, I feel good about my game.”
McIlroy was also quizzed about the Irish Open’s current spot in a busy golfing schedule. Next week’s Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club boasts a field packed with stars – the likes of Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm all locked in for a links test to warm up for the following week’s Open.
This week’s parkland test in Kilkenny, with half the prize purse of the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic running alongside it on the calendar, has failed to attract a vintage field, but given the glut of options for the game’s biggest hitters, McIlroy sees no easy solution for future renewals.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” McIlroy said. “It’s tough to go into The Open having it be your third week in a row. I think a lot of guys feel that. You’re not going to get many of the international guys coming over to play, they are not going to play the Irish Open and take a week off and then play The Open.
“The date, it’s a better date than we had in May, I think, but it’s probably still not perfect to have a great field. You see the field that the Scottish Open have next week; it’s very, very strong.
“So I don’t really know what the answer is. It’s obviously not as strong as it has been in previous years, and there’s a few factors to that, as well. You’ve got the tournament in Detroit on the PGA Tour this week. Guys just have so many options where to play and when to play. Some guys are going to make the addition to play here and others aren’t.”
McIlroy gets his tournament bid underway on Thursday at 1pm alongside Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion, American John Catlin.