Golf-Open failure in 2019 was a catalyst to return to number one, says McIlroy

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The 149th Open Championship
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SANDWICH, UNITED KINGDOM (Reuters) - Former champion Rory McIlroy does not have fond memories of the last British Open in 2019 after missing the cut but the Northern Irish golfer said on Tuesday his failure proved to be a catalyst in bouncing back and climbing to the top of the rankings.

McIlroy's horror showing at his home Open in Royal Portrush saw him drop four shots on the first hole and three at the last to finish with an eight-over-par 79, agonisingly missing the cut by one shot the following day despite a valiant second-round 65.

McIlroy did not have the chance to banish those demons last year when the British Open was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the 32-year-old said he did not dwell on his poor showing too much.

"I ended up winning the FedExCup in 2019, so it gave me a few million reasons to feel better," McIlroy said with a smile. "It was tough, but the great thing about golf is there's always next week, you can always get back on the horse.

"I won a World Golf Championship in China. I got to world number one at the start of 2020 and then the pandemic hit and the world sort of changed.

"If anything, it was a catalyst for me to play some of my best golf. I left Portrush obviously very disappointed, but by February of 2020... I got back to number one in the world."

McIlroy, now ranked 11th, won the British Open in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. He said he was reminded of what a "weird year" 2020 was when the tournament was cancelled, but was looking forward to next week when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in England.

"Walking in our open clubhouse here this week, there's a board with the list of winners and the courses, and it says '2020 Championship not played'," McIlroy added.

"You're just so used to seeing that at like 1941 or 1945, war years and stuff. The fact that every time now you look at 2020 it's going to say 'Championship not played', it just sort of stuck with me.

"Obviously next Monday is going to be a big day here for England and the UK, and I think everyone is looking forward to that. It's great to be back and great to have fans and just great to be playing an Open Championship again."

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)