Having taken the ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan for this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in Ayrshire, Rory McIlroy is hoping it will be plain sailing on the golf course from now on as he bids to ignite his season the same way he did after his last appearance in this event.
The Ulsterman used the tournament three years ago at Royal Aberdeen, where he tied for 14th behind Justin Rose, to spark a brilliant run, winning the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in successive events.
That, of course, will be hard to match over the next few weeks, but McIlroy believes he is close to finding that sort of form again and is hoping that a decision he has taken since missing the cut in the Irish Open last week can see him starting to be become a presence again on leaderboards for the rest of the campaign.
“After getting the ferry over here on Monday, I did some putting on my own to try and take ownership of what I’m really working on,” said the 28-year-old, who is headling the strongest field of the season on the European Tour for the Scottish Open’s first visit to Dundonald Links.
“With every other part of my game, I have ownership of it. I’ve worked with [coach] Michael Bannon for over 20 years, so, if he tells me anything, I will challenge him. I will say, ‘why am I doing that’ because I feel like I know my golf swing better than anyone else and I know the feelings that I have and I know what I want to do.
“Sometimes the putting has never really felt that way. I take instruction with it, but I don’t make it my own. That’s why I think having a little bit of time on my own to try and figure out my own thoughts will definitely help.
“I feel like I’ve become bogged down in technical thoughts a little bit, so I need to focus more on my routine and how I approach a putt.”
McIlroy’s normal routine for travelling to tournaments certainly doesn’t involve ferries. It’s normally a private jet for the sporting superstar, but not on this occasion. Due to a combination of reasons, including the fact he’s going on a roadtrip to the Cotswolds with his new wife, Erica, straight after next week’s Open at Royal Birkdale, the four-time major winner made a journey across the Irish Sea that he made many times before jets and helicopters became available to him.
“It was quite funny, GMac [Graeme McDowell] texted me on Monday morning and said, ‘well done on a good week last week [hosting the Irish Open at Portstewart]’. I said, ‘oh, thanks, we’re just getting the ferry over to Cairnryan here’. He goes, ‘I didn’t know NetJets did ferries’. It was quite funny.”
As was McIlroy finding out that games such as pool and snooker aren’t played on boats for obvious reasons. Recalling a story from when he was travelling with his dad, Gerry, across from Belfast to Stranraer on a golfing trip when he was around 10, he said: “My dad said to me, ‘do you want to go and play snooker?’ I said, ‘yeah! Let’s go play!’ He goes, ‘Rory, it’s a boat, balls are going to move’. That’s one of the first thing I remember about getting the ferry and I sort of make that joke every time I go on now, saying ‘you want to go play pool?’”
McIlroy probably wouldn’t have made that ferry trip this week if it wasn’t for the fact he missed a number of events earlier in the season due to a niggling rib injury.
By his own admission, he’s playing catch up in ranking battles such as the Race to Dubai and, getting good vibes straight away from being back at a Scottish Open and also taking an instant liking to the Kyle Phillips-designed course to the south of Irvine, he is determined to make this the week he kickstarts his campaign.
“It’s hard to sit up here or stand in front of a camera every single week and say it because I sound like a broken record after a few weeks, but my game really isn’t far away,” he insisted.
“I’m positive about it. I’m excited about my game. It’s just putting it all together. Not just for one day but for four days then to do it week in, week out.
“I’ve got a busy stretch coming up. I’m potentially playing seven weeks out of eight or nine and there’s plenty of time to still salvage the season.
“The Open Championship is eight days away and I want to play well here. I need to see signs in my game going in there to have a bit of confidence. I might be putting too much pressure on myself, but I know that’s it coming around. I just need to see it happen sooner rather than later.”
McIlroy heads a world-class field at Dundonald Links, where his rivals in the £5.5 million Rolex Series event include Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner, Alex Noren, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Adam Scott, who is making his first appearance at the Scottish Open since the 2009 tournament at Loch Lomond.
While the Australian came up empty-handed in the event’s lengthy spell there, he has tasted success on Scottish soil, storming to a 10-shot win in the Diageo Scottish PGA Championship at Gleneagles in 2002, when he was still cutting his professional teeth on the European Tour.
“I can still remember the night out, so it can’t have been the best night ever,” Scott admitted, recalling how he celebrated that triumph, having posted a remarkable 26-under-par aggregate on the PGA Centenary Course.
“But I remember a lot about that tournament, and maybe to this day it’s the best golf I’ve ever played in my career. To win a tournament by ten shots doesn’t happen very often. Everything just kind of fell into place for me, and I was playing out of my mind a little bit.”