Rory McIlroy will arrive on Merseyside in red hot form but will he be leaving feeling blue? Former Open champions Darren Clarke and Sir Nick Faldo believe this week is the week he ends his nine-year major drought.
Returning to the site of his Open Championship win, McIlroy is bidding to win his first major championship since the 2014 PGA Championship and he couldn’t be in better form after a runner-up finish at the US Open and a sensational win at last week’s Scottish Open.
McIlroy held the lead in the final round of the Open at St Andrews last year before being ambushed by Cameron Smith o the back nine but 2011 Claret Jug winner Clarke believes his countryman will finally get over the line for the fifth time in major competition.
“After the manner in which he won up in Scotland, he’s been playing great all year, his confidence will be right up there,” Clarke told Sky Sports.
“He went close at the US Open and I’m sure, like all of us at home, we want to see him finish and that major drought because he’s been playing so well for so long.
“He’s got everything going for him this week, and if just keeps on playing the way he has been I think he’ll be tough to beat.”
Three-time Open champion Faldo also told Sky Sports that McIlroy needs to act like he owns Hoylake as the defending course champion.
“Yeah, why not?” Faldo said. “It’s like saying ‘I own the ring, you ain’t gonna knock me down’.
“I felt that way when I came back to Muirfield in 1992 after winning in 1987. I was playing well, I was world number one, one of the favourites and all that and I thought ‘yeah, this is my spot, I’m gonna defend winning at Muirfield’.
“He’s got to be feeling good going back to somewhere he’s won before. He’s playing well. I think the most important thing is he just wants to be a golfer right now, give me a bit of space, let me breathe, let me just go and play.
“He’s one of the top few players in the world and it’s probably a nice feeling for him – he knows if he plays really well he knows the names he’s got to beat.”