Rory McIlroy doesn’t do home comforts when he’s in tournament mode. Hence why he will not be sleeping in his own bed for next week’s 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush. Even though it’s only an hour away, he’s swapping his home in Holywood for a rented property.
“No, I actually don’t like staying at home,” he said in reply to being asked about his accommodation plans for the oldest major. Such is his strength of feeling, his local event on the PGA Tour when he’s living in his second home in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida has been axed from his schedule.
“One of the reasons I don’t play the Honda Classic any more is that being in your own bed playing in a tournament just doesn’t feel right to me,” he added. “It is very separate. When I’m at home, I’m at home. When I’m on tour, I’m on tour. So I’ll be staying up there [next week].”
McIlroy was speaking after carding a second successive 67 to sit on eight-under-par at the halfway stage in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. “Coming here, if someone had said you are going to shoot four 67s, I’d have felt I might have a chance,” he declared, “but I might have a chance of a top-20, maybe!”
Some sensational scoring has left the 30-year-old with a bit of ground to make up heading into the weekend, but, with one eye on next week, it’s so far, so good. “Yeah, I haven’t really seen much [to worry about],” he reported of his game. “I’m driving it well. The 2-iron in the bag has been good. The wedge play has been good. I’ve been much more direct with the wedges. I’ve holed some nice putts.”
So what is going to be the key part of his game next week at a venue where he holds the course record, having shot an incredible 10-under-par 61 when he was just 16? “I think driving the golf ball,” said the four-time major winner. “The rough is going to be more penal next week than it is here. You’ve also got a lot of these fern bushes that grow in the rough at Portrush and, if you get into those, it is just hack out.
“There’s a lot of holes where you can’t be aggressive. Carnoustie last year, with how firm it was and the rough was really wispy, my game-plan was just hit driver everywhere, get up and find it and go from there and it worked pretty well. But you can’t do that at Portrush. Mid-iron play and finding fairways is going to be key next week.
“There are three par-5s and I’m probably not going to hit driver on two of them because it is so tight. For guys who don’t hit it quite as long they could still hit driver. But for me it gets really tight with pot bunkers on one side and really thick stuff on the other. I’d rather go 2-iron, 2-iron than driver, 4 or 5-iron.” How many drivers did he hit in that 61? “2005? 14 years ago? Do you really want me to count it up?” he asked, smiling. “Seven, I think, but the course is so different.”
The test he’s facing on the East Lothian coast this week is a lot different to what he’d expected. Heavy rain earlier in the week has turned the Tom Doak-designed course in a target golf shoot-out. “The conditions have been so benign,” acknowledged McIlroy. “I think the European Tour didn’t really know what to expect coming here for the first time. The greens are really severe in places. They have been generous with the pin positions and also with the speed of the greens.
“If anything, because they are so slow, it doesn’t punish the misses like missing the greens should. It is very sticky and, even if you short-side yourself, you are still able to get it close. I wouldn’t say it is daft but, in benign conditions like these, guys are able to take it low.”