McIlroy looking to get his game in Open form

"My iron play is good," said Rory McIlroy, practicing on Tuesday. "As long as I can just put it on the fairway, I feel like I can take advantage of that."
"My iron play is good," said Rory McIlroy, practicing on Tuesday. "As long as I can just put it on the fairway, I feel like I can take advantage of that." (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 12, 2013

He has risen to the top of the game and stumbled this year, all the way to No. 2 in the world - although his current 32d place on the 2013 PGA money list seems a better reflection of his season's work.

Whatever the ranking, Rory McIlroy still comes off as a friendly young regular-guy face of golf.

He knows the name of Merion's course architect. He'll tell you about how his car spun in the mud Tuesday morning - "I could hardly get in the car park . . . the car was going sideways" - and is happy to have the NBA Finals to distract him at night.

He was "half-thinking" about running the Rocky steps, McIlroy said, "wherever they are . . . just because we are where we are." But mostly, the 24-year-old said, he is thinking about conserving fuel before Thursday's opening round.

"These can be long weeks," McIlroy said. "Especially [because] the ground's going to be heavy. It's going to be a tough walk out there."

McIlroy blitzed the field under similar wet conditions in 2010 at Congressional, getting to 16 under, an Open record. Graeme McDowell described it as "Rory split the fairway 14 times out of 14, 330 [yards] down the middle, and decimated the place."

McIlroy knows that's not the way to get around Merion. He'd be over several par-4s with drives that long.

"I've never really played a course like it," McIlroy said. "Where you have a pretty tough start, the first six holes, where you have got a couple of chances, but then you're sort of playing for your pars. Then you've got a stretch of seven holes after that, from 7 to 13, where you've got a lot of wedges in your hand and you have a lot of chances to make birdie. Then you've got the last five holes where you're sort of just hanging on."

After winning majors the last two years, McIlroy was asked Tuesday about what's been the most difficult part of this season, whether it's been on or off the course. This year, he walked off the course at the Honda Classic, and is in the midst of parting with his management company.

"I guess just managing the expectations, probably of myself and of other people," McIlroy said about the difficulties of the year. "Coming off the back of a great year last year, and I guess expecting myself to emulate that or even try and do better, and it hasn't really happened so far."

It's close, McIlroy suggested.

"I've been seeing a lot of positive signs in my game the last few weeks," McIlroy said. "But that's been the most difficult."

He means that he hasn't been contending. The native of Northern Ireland is still the No. 2 betting choice in British betting parlors, behind first-round playing partner Tiger Woods.

"My iron play is good," McIlroy said. "It's dialed in. As long as I can just put it on the fairway, I feel like I can take advantage of that."

He pointed out that he wasn't coming in boasting of the greatest form in the two majors that he's won, at Congressional and last year, when he won the PGA Championship by a record 8 strokes.

He said all this in his usual pleasant way, although he also sounded like a guy who could only be hopeful this week, not quite ultra-confident.

"It's nice to come in under the radar, but be able to do your own thing and be able to get on with your business and prepare the way you want to for this tournament," McIlroy said.

That ends Thursday, when No. 2 in the world is paired with No. 3 Adam Scott, and also with No. 1. Previous form quickly falls out of the picture. He's in the Big Boy group.

"It's a good thing," McIlroy said of playing with Woods and Scott. "There's a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it and it gets you focused from the first shot."


Rory's Tee Times

Thursday at 1:14 p.m.

Friday at 7:44 a.m.

With Tiger Woods and Adam Scott.


Contact Mike Jensen at mjensen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.

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