The overriding emotion this week may be one of “trepidation”, but Rory McIlroy believes winning the US Open at Oakmont could be the biggest accomplishment of his career.
McIlroy won his first major title in the 2011 US Open at Congressional, taking advantage of a rain-softened course to blitz the field by eight shots with a record total of 16 under par.
The 26-year-old was also 13 under par in winning the 2012 US PGA Championship, 17 under in the 2014 Open at Hoylake and 16 under when claiming a second US PGA title a month later at Valhalla.
But McIlroy feels a second US Open victory at Oakmont, where the winning score was five over par in 2007, would make him a more “complete” player.”I’d be very proud if I won on a golf course like this,” the Northern Irishman said. “The majors that I have won have been soft and (well) under par and more suits my style of game.
“But to be able to win on a course like this with the conditions the way they are, it would be maybe my biggest accomplishment in the game. (It) definitely would make me feel like a more complete player.”
Golf course architect Tom Doak famously said of Oakmont “it has all the charm of an SS commandant the way it is set up for a tournament,” but McIlroy could add his name to a list of great players to have conquered the course a few miles to the north east of Pittsburgh.
Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Ernie Els are all multiple-major winners who have tasted success at Oakmont, with Nicklaus beating Arnold Palmer in a play-off for the first of his record 18 majors there in 1962.
“I would expect the more established players and those up near the top of the world rankings to do well this week because it is a golf course that can separate the players that are playing well from the players that are just slightly off their games,” added McIlroy, who won the Irish Open last month at The K Club.
“If guys are playing well and they’re confident, you’ll maybe get it around in under par. But the guys that are struggling, it will really magnify that weakness and you’ll see a lot of high scores as well.”
McIlroy admits he will have to rein in his natural aggression given the penal bunkers, deep rough and fast sloping greens on the par-70 layout, which features a par-three measuring 288 yards and a par five at 667.
“It’s a great test of golf,” said the world No 3, who will partner Masters champion Danny Willett and their 2007 Walker Cup opponent Rickie Fowler in the first two rounds.
“Every shot you hit, you’re under pressure to hit a great shot because you can’t really miss it. You really need to put the ball on the fairway. That’s a huge premium.
“And if you get your ball on the fairway, you’ve just got to make sure that you leave yourself below the hole on the greens. And even in some cases, that may mean missing the green.
“For example, on the first hole, missing the green sort of long and left is never going to be a bad option. The 10th hole is sort of similar.
“You could go a whole round here without hitting it at any pin and just trust that where you’re hitting it into is the best leave. I’d much rather have a 30-foot putt up the hill on these greens than even an eight-footer down the hill.
“You just have to be so disciplined and I’m an aggressive player as well. So there’s just going to be times where I’m going to have to rein it back a little bit.”
Asked to compare the overriding emotion ahead of this week compared with the excitement felt before the Masters, McIlroy added: “Trepidation, I guess.
“Excitement is a good way to describe Augusta, but this week it’s not excitement. It’s definitely not that.
“You know you’re going to be put under a lot of pressure on basically every single golf shot you hit out there. So you have to be prepared for that. You have to be prepared for how mentally demanding it’s going to be, how much concentration you’re going to need out there.
“You expect that coming into a US Open. It’s the toughest test in golf, and you know that, and you have to do everything you can to prepare for that and try to do your best.”