McIlroy relishing ‘extra special’ St Andrews Open

Rory McIlroy with the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship
McIlroy became the one of only three players to win three majors by the age of 25 when he won the 2014 Open Championship – joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods

Rory McIlroy says he will wrap himself “in cotton wool” to make sure he plays at “an extra special” Open Championship at St Andrews in July after missing out on defending his title at the iconic venue in 2015 because of a freak injury.

The oldest major marks its 150th tournament this year by returning to the home of golf and the fabled Old Course for the first time in seven years.

To celebrate the landmark, BBC Sport is running a series of podcasts, focusing on a different player or theme each week.

The first, featuring McIlroy – Open champion in 2014 – is available now and is exclusive to BBC Sounds.

In it, the Northern Irishman talks about how he has realised his childhood dreams, how his “momentum” in majors was halted by missing out on the 2015 Open and how he felt he lost a sense of invincibility.

McIlroy followed his Open victory at Hoylake by winning the US PGA Championship – the most recent of his four majors – and, after finishing fourth at the 2015 Masters and ninth at the US Open, expectations were high heading to St Andrews.

But he ruptured an ankle ligament in the week before the Championship while playing football with friends.

“I didn’t win the Masters that year because Jordan (Spieth) played fantastically well, but I played well that week,” McIlroy said.

“I finished in the top 10 at the US Open and I’d won three times in 2015 but [the injury] halted that momentum of being on that run of majors.

“It didn’t stop me having a great year beyond that. I came back as early as I could and played the PGA and played OK, and ended up winning (the European Tour’s) Race to Dubai.”

Asked if he had lost a feeling of invincibility, McIlroy replied: “Yeah. Brooks Koepka has talked about this. When he went on his run (winning four majors in three years), you don’t have to do that much right to get yourself into the mix.

“There was certainly that feeling in 2014 and 2015, but the game has moved on.”

McIlroy pointed to the emergence of defending Open champion Collin Morikawa – who will also feature in this podcast series – as a player he “had not heard of” when he last won a major in 2014.

“There are a lot of young players that have come through that are fearless, winning younger than ever. While it’s not about them – it’s about you and shooting the best score that you can – there are a few more players in the way than there maybe was five or seven years ago.”

This will be McIlroy’s first Open at St Andrews since 2010.

In that Championship, which was the 150th anniversary of the first, the 21-year-old shot a first-round nine-under-par 63 to tie the record for the lowest score in a major.

He was caught in the worst of the weather in round two and carded an 80 to wreck his hopes of winning the tournament, although he bounced back with a combined seven under par in the final two rounds to finish joint third.

McIlroy’s solitary Claret Jug came four years later in Liverpool as he became the first European golfer to win three of the four majors.

He took a six-shot lead into the final round, eventually winning by two from Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia.

“To win an Open with my parents there and have that embrace on the back of the 18th green, those are the moments you’ll never forget,” said McIlroy.

“It’s the win and everything to do with that, and the fact you get your name on that trophy, but when I look back on my career it’s the fact that my parents were able to see me win those tournaments. That’s the thing that makes me really proud – you share it with so many other people.”

Since that victory, McIlroy has only once finished in the top 20 at The Open, although he has had 14 top-10s in the other three majors in that time.

“I’ve basically won everything else there is to win in golf,” he said. “I’ve won the Players Championship. I’ve won FedEx Cups. I’ve won the Race to Dubai. I’ve won World Golf Championships. I’ve won national Opens. I’ve done a lot.

“That hasn’t included a major, but I’ve played well enough to win one.”

A record crowd of 290,000 will descend on the Fife town of St Andrews in the third week of July to see if McIlroy can find his winning touch in majors again.

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