Rory McIlroy does not feel like he is the centre of attention at Royal Portrush this week and insists he will treat the 148th Open Championship the same as any other.
It has been 68 years since golf’s oldest major was played on Portrush’s Dunluce links and there is an understandable intrigue about local favourite McIlroy around the venue.
The Northern Irishman set Portrush’s course record as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2005 and is aiming to end a five-year major drought on home soil.
McIlroy will undoubtedly draw plenty of eyes when play begins on Thursday and has spoken in the past of struggling with the attention when playing at the Irish Open.
But he is planning to draw on the support of a partisan home crowd.
“I think it’s probably easier this week because it’s such a big tournament. You’ve got the best players in the world here and I don’t feel like I’m the centre of attention,” he said.
“I’m from Northern Ireland and I’m playing at home, but I don’t see myself as that centre of attention, I guess.
“I’m here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here.
“But at the same time, I might not get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again. You never know what happens. I’m really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.
“I’m going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can’t help you, then nothing can.”
— The Open (@TheOpen) 15 July 2019
As well as his own local knowledge, McIlroy has another ace up his sleeve in the shape of caddie Harry Diamond, who is also a Northern Ireland native.
McIlroy believes Diamond, a friend since childhood who was best man at his wedding, possesses a more intimate knowledge of Portrush than he does, while accepting the 61 he shot 14 years ago counts for little due to the changes made to the course in the intervening years.
“I think that’s one of the things people don’t realise, Harry has played more rounds of golf on this golf course than I have, and definitely more competitive rounds,” McIlroy added.
“He’s just as comfortable on this golf course as I am. So that is a big help this week.
“Harry’s experience around here, he’s probably played this place more times than I have, not that I don’t let him have any say any other weeks, but I think with his experience around here, my ear will be a little sharper to what he has to say.
“This golf course has changed so much since 2005 when I shot the 61. It’s a different par, different holes. There’s a lot of holes that have been lengthened. There’s been a par five turned into a par four.
“I think this week, [rainy] conditions like this, then you’re looking at 67, 68 is a good score. [Clear] conditions like I played it last night, then you could probably potentially see someone shoot a 63, 64, 65.”