SOUTHPORT (England) • Rory McIlroy is confident he can put injury problems and a frustrating run of form behind him to mount a serious challenge for a fifth Major title at this week's British Open.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman, a former world No. 1 now ranked fourth, is rated a 20-1 shot by bookmakers to repeat his 2014 Open victory at Royal Birkdale this Sunday.
"It hasn't been the year that I had planned, but these things sort of crop up out of nowhere and they challenge us," McIlroy, who suffered a rib injury in January, told a news conference yesterday.
"Obviously, it's been hard to get any sort of momentum with an injury and not being able to practise as much as you'd like.
"But I'm in good spirits. I feel like it's all coming together. I'm just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks and I'll be off and running."
McIlroy's last Major title came at the 2014 PGA Championship, a few weeks after he won the British Open at Hoylake. He had looked set to dominate the sport then.
"Having that success, you only want to do that more. You want to do it again and again and again," he said. "So I definitely haven't lost the hunger that I've always had."
First round (selected, S'pore times, USA unless stated)
2.30pm Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Danny Willett (Eng)
4.25pm Darren Clarke (Nir)
4.36pm Padraig Harrington (Irl)
4.47pm Henrik Stenson (Swe), Kim Si Woo (Kor), Jordan Spieth
4.58pm Justin Rose (Eng), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)
5.09pm Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Brooks Koepka
7.42pm Ernie Els (Rsa)
8.04pm Jason Day (Aus), Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia (Esp)
8.26pm Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott (Aus)
9.48pm Rory McIlroy (Nir), Dustin Johnson
9.59pm Jon Rahm (Esp), Patrick Reed, Lee Westwood (Eng)
10.10pm Phil Mickelson
10.21pm Bubba Watson
McIlroy has missed the cut at three of the last five Majors and also failed to make the weekend on the links at the Irish Open and Scottish Open recently.
However, he believes he is playing well enough to tame the notoriously tricky Birkdale links course and beat the favourites, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and his fellow American Jordan Spieth.
"It's just about staying as positive as I possibly can," McIlroy said. "My game is all there. It's just a matter of putting it all together."
In recent times, there is an orthodoxy that says Majors only go to those who have never won one before. While multiple-Major winners like Spieth will be hoping that this is not the case, he predicts that the era of the dominant force could well be over.
Since the demise of Tiger Woods, the last seven Majors have seen first-time winners - Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka have all proved one-hit wonders so far.
World No. 3 Spieth believes that the chances are high for a first-time British Open winner on Sunday.
"What Tiger's done, having experienced a year like he continued to do for years, it just takes a lot out of you," the 23-year-old said.
"It's very tough to do. And you have to have a lot of things go right at the right times. I doubt you'll see a dominance like that maybe ever again in the game.
"It could be anybody this week, so nothing you can do about that other than keep your head down, play as well as you can, and see what happens after two days."
Day also rates his chances this week despite arriving late due to flight delays in New York which he put down to US President Donald Trump, who attended the US Women's Open in New Jersey last weekend.
The 29-year-old world No. 6's change of plans meant he did not practise on the Southport links on Monday, but he believes a lack of golf going into the championship could benefit him.
"Usually I get to places like this early. I usually get in Thursday or Friday and play a couple of practice rounds. I did it this year at Augusta and I was just knackered by the time I started Thursday," he said.
"This week has felt a lot quicker to me. And I got some work in before I came in here.
"I think all in all I feel pretty ready and fresh going into tomorrow's round."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
Day 1: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 1.30pm