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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Rory McIlroy called winning the Claret Jug at The Old Course at St. Andrews, “one of the greatest things you can do in our game.”
“I don’t know if a golfer’s career isn’t complete if you don’t, but I think it’s the Holy Grail of our sport,” McIlroy said during his pre-tournament press conference ahead of the 150th British Open. “Not a lot of people are going to get that opportunity to achieve that, but that’s what winning an Open at St. Andrews is. It’s one of the highest achievements that you can have in golf.”
But is winning another Claret Jug the Holy Grail for McIlroy or is it a Green Jacket awarded to the Masters champion, which would complete the elusive career Grand Slam for the Northern Irishman?
“I guess it’s both,” he said. “Obviously I’d love to win both. And I’ll be greedy and say that I’ll take both.”
To do so, McIlroy, 33, will need to master the famed and fabled fairways at The Old Course to end a winless drought in the majors which dates to the 2014 PGA Championship, a span of 29 major starts.
Rory McIlroy poses with the Open Golf Claret Jug trophy at halftime of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on August 16, 2014, in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
This season McIlroy has shown moments of brilliance in the majors – a final-round 64 at the Masters to finish second, the 18-hole leader at the PGA en route to finishing three strokes shy of a playoff and a disappointing eighth at the PGA Championship and in the trophy hunt until the latter stages at the U.S. Open before settling for a T-5. Victories at the CJ Cup in October and the RBC Canadian Open have been nice, but it is last call to add to his major total of four or else endure the nearly nine-month wait until the Masters in April when he will face the same questions all over again.
This marks McIlroy’s 13th appearance at The Open, dating to when he first played the major as an amateur in 2007. The 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year finished T-3 in 2010, when he posted a record-tying 63 in the first round only to be swept away by the wind a day later and ballooned to 80. McIlroy said his memories of that best of times, worst of times week are minimal and he’d have to review the highlights (and lowlights, presumably).
“This is sort of a good lesson in human behavior, but the only thing I remember about the 63 is hitting a 6-iron into 3 feet at 17 and missing the putt,” he recalled. “That’s the one thing that sticks out in my mind because I remember coming off the golf course thinking that was a really good opportunity (to be) 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 never got to defend his 2014 Open title at St. Andrews due to rupturing a ligament in his left ankle kicking a soccer ball with friends. (He noted there would be no soccer this week.) McIlroy, who has returned to World No. 2, said he was surprised to see the fairways playing so fast and firm this week thanks to an unusual spell of dry summer weather, and found the greens quite receptive.
“Still have a very firm first bounce, but they’re receptive if you hit a well-enough-struck iron shot,” McIlroy said.
After playing four weeks in a row on the PGA Tour, he took off the week of the Horizon Irish Open and played last week in the two-day JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Ireland. Then he played an enjoyable practice round at Ballybunion on Thursday with Tiger Woods.
“Apart from that, didn’t really do too much,” McIlroy said. “Hung around Adare for a couple of days, did a little bit of practice, got in here Sunday. Then, yeah, played whatever I played. Played the first five and the last five yesterday in a practice round.”
McIlroy said his confidence in his game is as high as it it’s been in quite some time, but he won’t fall into the trap of simply believing it is “his time.”
“It’s going to be a game of chess this week,” he said of The Old Course, which he believes has stood the test of time. But the weight of chasing the Holy Grail will never be far from his mind.
“This was the major championship, it was the first one I ever attended as a kid. Yeah, it just means a little bit more,” he said. “To hear your name and winner of the gold medal, Champion Golfer of the Year, it’s what dreams are made of. I still remember that pretty vividly. I’d love to replicate that on Sunday evening.”