A decade on, Rory McIlroy has returned to Royal St. George’s ‘pleasantly surprised’ with what he’s already experienced in his four days ahead of this week’s rescheduled 149th Open Championship.
In 2011, McIlroy arrived at Sandwich in rural Kent on an enormous high having captured a maiden major with his record-breaking U.S. Open triumph at Congressional. McIlroy celebrated Father’s Day posting four rounds in the 60s, winning by eight shots, though as we all know, two rounds of golf or two tournaments are never the same with another Northern Irishman in Darren Clarke walking away with golf’s oldest major.
McIlroy broke 70 just once over those four days in 2011 to post a seven-over total, 23 shots more than a month earlier in Maryland, to share 25th place twelve months on from superbly sharing third at St. Andrews. Though clearly missing this week from the championship canvas of 2011, are the enormous bounces, the brown-coloured humps and hollows and the wispy dry grass.
“I think the biggest thing here at Royal St. George’s is the course, even before the rain yesterday, the course was quite lush, quite green,” he said.
“We maybe weren’t getting the bounces that we’re accustomed to getting here at St. George’s with the bumpy fairways. Honestly, I think the course plays a little better that way, so I was pleasantly surprised at — I walked away from the golf course on Saturday and Sunday thinking, this is a much better golf course than I remember it being, and I think that’s just because of the way it’s playing right now.
“The course is perfect, and as the days go on with a little bit of wind and sunshine, by the weekend it should just be absolutely perfect. It should be playing the way it should play. I think more than anything else, I obviously didn’t have great memories from 2011 the way I played, and playing the last few days, it’s — this is just my perception, and because of not playing my best that time, I came back here and it’s much better than I remember.”
McIlroy got to the course earlier than expected after missing the halfway cut at the Scottish Open and despite that disappointment, the current World No. 11 believes it could be ‘blessing in disguise’.
“Yeah, I think it could be a blessing in disguise,” he said “You never want to miss a cut but as missed cuts go, this wasn’t necessarily a bad one. I wasn’t planning on playing the Scottish Open a few weeks ago anyway, so just to get a couple of competitive rounds in and just learn a little bit more and figure out what I need to do. It would have been great to stay and play an extra couple days in Scotland, but to be down here and get a few holes in on Saturday, play a full round on Sunday, felt like I got a bit of a head-start on the rest of the field, which feels good.
“It means now that I didn’t even play any holes yesterday. I played 11 today (Tuesday). I’m probably going to go out early tomorrow and play 18. But I just meant that I can take it a bit easier the next couple, not feel like I’m trying to cram all the preparation in.”
Open organisers have grouped McIlroy for the opening two rounds in the company of Masters champ, Patrick Reed and Aussie Cameron Smith with a late 3.21pm first round tee-off in the sixth last group on day one, while he’s out at 10.20am on day two.