A buoyant Rory McIlroy has targeted a flying start to the US Open as he tries to create history by ending his major drought at Pebble Beach.
Victories in the Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in 2014 make McIlroy the last player to win a PGA Tour event immediately before winning a major, but no player has ever followed a Tour victory with another at the US Open.
The 30-year-old can achieve that feat this week following his dominant victory in the RBC Canadian Open, where he closed with rounds of 64 and 61 to win by seven shots – the tournament’s biggest winning margin in 67 years.
But the former world number one acknowledges he will need to reproduce the fast starts which have led to all four of his previous major titles if he is to claim win number five on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.
“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,” said 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 you start to chase on those really tough courses, it’s hard to do that.
“The majors that I’ve won I’ve started every single one of them really well and I think that’s sort of what’s held me back a little bit.
“If I can take that freedom that I played with on Saturday and Sunday last week and put that into tomorrow and get off to a good start, I’ll be hopefully right in the tournament from the get-go and stay there.”
McIlroy admits it would be “liberating and satisfying” to end his major drought and follow in the footsteps of fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who lifted the trophy at Pebble Beach in 2010.
Having missed the cut on that occasion McIlroy enjoyed a record-breaking victory at Congressional 12 months later, but since then his best finish in the US Open is a tie for ninth at Chambers Bay in 2015 and he has missed the last three halfway cuts.
He also failed to make the cut at the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago after two rounds which playing partner Jordan Spieth said was among the unluckiest he has seen, but believes that could have worked in his favour.
“I hit a tree and it went left and we couldn’t find it. And I hit it a little right on two and it hit a rock and went out of bounds,” McIlroy said.
“My thing is they weren’t great golf shots so they probably deserved to end up where they did.
“And it gave me an extra two days to work on some things and figure out why I hit those shots. I shouldn’t be hitting branches of trees or rocks 10 yards right of the fairway.
“It was, in hindsight, a great thing. Like I obviously would have loved to contended in Jack’s tournament.
“And I feel like one day, with how that golf course sets up for me, I’ll hopefully win it. This year it might have been a blessing that I got to spend an extra bit of time on the range.
“I think confidence is important for everyone. I don’t think you can play to the best of your ability if you don’t have confidence and belief in yourself.
“But I think the last time I felt this free has to go back to maybe that run at the (FedEx Cup) play-offs in 2016. 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.”
McIlroy won a USD 10million bonus for claiming the FedEx Cup title and would claim another USD 2.25 for victory here, but that US Open trophy remains the biggest prize.
By Phil Casey, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent, Pebble Beach
‘Rory McIlroy looking for fast start at the US Open