Rory McIlroy felt like golf’s 10 million-dollar man once more as the US Open got under way at Pebble Beach on Thursday.
McIlroy secured an eight-figure bonus for claiming the overall FedEx Cup title in 2016 by winning two of the four play-off events, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
And the 30-year-old believes he is in similar free-flowing form ahead of the year’s third major championship after winning his second tournament of the season in the Canadian Open on Sunday.
“I think the last time I felt this free has to go back to maybe that run at the play-offs in 2016,” McIlroy said. “I felt really good. And then going into the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, I felt like that was a real good stretch of golf that I played.”
History is against McIlroy claiming his first major title since 2014 however, with no player having ever followed a PGA Tour victory with another at the US Open.
The former world number one also acknowledges that he needs to get off to a fast start on the Monterey Peninsula to have a chance of following in the footsteps of fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who won at Pebble Beach in 2010.
“I had a chat with Johnny Miller at the champions dinner and he said if you look at the history of major championships, that first round is so important,” added McIlroy, who started the 2011 US Open, 2012 US PGA, 2014 Open and 2014 US PGA with rounds of 65, 67, 66 and 66 respectively.
“I said I know. My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year put me a little bit behind the eight ball and it’s hard to catch up, especially as major championships are played on the toughest courses and if you start to chase on those really tough courses, it’s hard to do that.”
McIlroy’s victory in Canada made him one of the favourites for the title alongside defending champion Brooks Koepka, two-time AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Dustin Johnson and Masters champion Tiger Woods.
Koepka is looking to become only the second player in tournament history to win the US Open in three straight years, while Johnson is chasing redemption after blowing a three-shot lead with a closing 82 in 2010.
Woods, who won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 shots, missed the cut in the US PGA at Bethpage but returned to action with a top-10 finish in the Memorial Tournament.
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Rory McIlroy shot a final round of 61 to win the RBC Canadian Open by seven shots.
The Northern Irishman was in sublime form on Sunday, blitzing the field to finish on 22 under par.
He broke the tournament record by five shots to claim his 16th career PGA Tour title.
McIlroy’s countryman Graeme McDowell secured his spot at the Open Championship in his home town of Portrush after finishing in a tie for eighth.
He needed to finish in the top 10 and drained his monster par putt at the 18th to do just that, finishing alongside Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson on 10 under par.
A birdie at the 18th would have given McIlroy a round of 59 but he bogeyed the last after finding a bunker on his approach to the green.
His win in Ontario is the perfect preparation for the US Open, the third major of the year, which begins on Thursday.
“I just got it going out of the gates. I said at the start of the day I wanted to be aggressive,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.
“I played with so much freedom over the weekend, more freedom than I’ve had for a while, which is exciting. To get a win going into next week is huge.”
McIlroy, who hit nine birdies, an eagle and two bogeys, finished ahead of Webb Simpson, who chipped in on the 18th to tie with Ireland’s Shane Lowry on 15 under par.
Rory McIlroy maintains he is not just using his debut at the RBC Canadian Open as preparation for an assault on the US Open title at Pebble Beach.
The 30-year-old Northern Irishman heads to Hamilton looking to build momentum into the third major of the year and on the back of a disappointing performance at the Memorial Tournament.
Having missed the cut in each of the past three US Open events, McIlroy believes delivering a strong showing through all four rounds in Ontario will be crucial.
“This isn’t just a preparation week. This is a very prestigious tournament, one of the oldest tournaments in the world that I would dearly love to be able to add my name to,” said McIlroy, who claimed his first major triumph with victory in the 2011 US Open at Congressional.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about Hamilton and I’m excited to be here.
“It’s a very strategic golf course. You’ve got to put it in play off the tee, and I’m definitely going to have to drive it better this week than I did last week.
“There’s a variety of different tee shots that you need to hit, with different clubs, and the greens are going to be a very similar type of grass.
“The rough is pretty thick as well, so if you miss it in the rough you’re doing well to get it up by the green. And then, if you do miss greens, it’s going to be pretty similar in terms of the lies that you get.
McIlroy told reporters at a press conference: “I’m fully focused on this week, but knowing that if I play well here this week, and have good control of my ball and my distance control, that that will serve me well going into next week.”
Defending champion Dustin Johnson will be another looking to make an impact through this weekend.
The American world number two, though, is no longer working directly with long-time coach Claude Harmon III in a new set-up moving forward.
“I’ve always worked with coach (Allen) Terrell, I’ve always worked with Butch (Harmon) and Claude, so it’s not really a change,” Johnson said.
Johnson played the last four Canadian Opens contested at Glen Abbey Golf Club but is ready for the challenge of tackling the shorter Hamilton course, the players having been taken off for spells during Wednesday’s practice round because of rain and dangerous weather conditions.
“It’s kind of an old school golf course. Got to hit it straight, but I like it so far, what I’ve seen,” said Johnson, who finished runner-up at the PGA Championship last month.
“I feel like I’m rested. I’m mentally sharp, and I’m ready to go for the last push through the end of the year.
“I’ve got a lot of really big tournaments coming up, and for me, it’s just about putting myself into position to have a chance to win.”
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