Rory McIlroy blasts back at critics as he tries to end seven-year major hoodoo at The Open

Golf: McIlroy speaks after shot accidentally hits father

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Rory McIlroy heads for The Open Championship this week with one fundamental question following him to Royal St George’s – why hasn’t he won a major for seven years? Only two other players in the history of golf had won four of golf’s priceless treasures by the age of 25 and they were Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus but while theirs kept on coming, his have dried up.

McIlroy is this generation’s closest equivalent in terms of God-given gifts but he has played in 25 majors since that PGA Championship win in the dusk at Valhalla with no return.

The bar-room analysis is that he still has the gifts but, with millions banked and settled into family life in Florida, he does not have the drive to push on. He is just getting by on his natural talent.

That observation stings.

“The naturally-talented thing irks me as it gives off the impression I am lazy and don’t work as hard, which is obviously not the case at all,” said McIlroy.

“I get where people are coming from but there is a lot more to it than natural ability and talent and everyone out here will tell you the same thing. All talent is the hard work you have put in over the years.

“There is no-one in the world of golf who has hit more golf balls than I have, or who have hit more golf balls than I have. I’ve been playing golf since I was two years old.”

He is 32 now. It is inconceivable that he will finish his career with the same number of majors as Ray Floyd, good player though the American was, but the omens for this week at The Open at least are not good.

He has no form to take into Royal St George’s after trailing in 59th at the Irish Open a fortnight ago and missing the cut at the Scottish Open.

What he does have though is the story of Darren Clarke a decade ago to fall back on.

“A lot of players play their best when there is no expectation and that’s what happened with Darren that time,” recalled McIlroy, who played a practice round with Clarke the day before the championship.

“He felt like he couldn’t get the ball in the hole, felt he wasn’t hitting it good but he had that famous chat with (sports psychologist) Bob Rotella on the Wednesday afternoon and saw how that transformed him. He went on to win that week which was great.

“When you are playing badly it is never as far away as you think it is and when you are playing well you are never that far away from playing badly again.

“It’s a very fickle game – that’s the nature of it unfortunately – and everyone who has played the game at a high level knows that.”

If McIlroy really was content to tread water, he would not have brought in Pete Cowen as his coach in February – a big call both technically and personally because it meant an awkward conversation with his coach from childhood Michael Bannon.

The new link-up brought instant results as he won the Wells Fargo Championship two months later but there is clearly remedial work to be done in the three days before The Open’s eagerly-awaited return.

McIlroy missed the cut in his last Open at home in Northern Ireland and neither he – nor anyone with a ticket for the weekend at Sandwich – wants a repeat.

“I didn’t quite approach Portrush in the right way in terms of preparing myself to play in that atmosphere in front of those people,” said McIlroy.

“But before that I’d had five top-fives in a row in The Open. I know how to play links golf – I grew up on it – and I know how to play Open Championships.

“I’d have previously said in my career The Open was not the major which suited me the most but results would say otherwise.”

Rory McIlroy was speaking at the launch of GolfPass on Sky Q, for more information go to sky.com/GolfPass.

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