Rory McIlroy believes Tiger Woods has played a significant role in the current American stranglehold on golf’s biggest prizes, which he will try to break in this week’s US Open.
The United States currently holds the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup, while American players possess all four major championships and make up half of the world’s top 10.
And, while Woods himself is ranked a relatively lowly 80th as he continues his latest comeback from injury, McIlroy believes his role as assistant captain in team competitions and friendships with the younger generation of American stars has been crucial.
“They have a couple of guys, but one in particular that they try to emulate who’s back out here playing, and he’s become a friend of theirs,” McIlroy said.
“I think that’s been a huge part of all this. A lot of these guys have gotten to know Tiger and been able to say, okay, this is what he does. And we mightn’t be able to achieve everything that he has, but you can at least try to do that.
“I think that’s been a huge thing for Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, and them as individuals as well. These things go in cycles. European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time. It seemed every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn’t seem that long ago.
“I feel good about my game. I have a win this year, which is great, and have got myself into contention quite a few times and I would love to do that again this week. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the mix in this championship.”
McIlroy’s victory at Congressional in 2011 saw him break numerous US Open records, but the four-time major winner’s form in the event since has been mixed.
The Northern Irishman has missed the cut the last two years and his best finish is a tie for ninth at Chambers Bay in 2015, during which he said: “Every year the US Open is very frustrating, apart from 2011. I came off the green on the last there and I said to JP [Fitzgerald, his caddie], ‘Thank God I’ve got one of these’.”
McIlroy’s chances of a second US Open title should have been boosted by a lengthy spell of preparation on Long Island, the 29-year-old renting a house in the area for two weeks and making the trip east immediately after finishing in a tie for eighth in the Memorial Tournament in Ohio.
And although he is now anxious to get the serious competition under way today alongside Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson, rediscovering the joys of “fun” golf could be equally important.
“For maybe five or six years I never played fun golf,” McIlroy added. “It was all to do with getting ready to play tournaments and I didn’t understand people that went out and played a lot.
“But basically it’s been since my dad became a member at Seminole [in Florida] and I was able to go over and play a lot of golf with him that I really started to enjoy fun golf again and playing these different courses.
“I think it does put you in a different frame of mind. You’re relaxed out there, and maybe that sort of bleeds into your mindset whenever you’re here in a big championship. It’s no different.
“If I’ve got a shot that I need to execute under pressure here this week, it’s no different than playing that shot when I’m out there playing with my dad or my buddies or whatever it is.
“Obviously there is a separation of the two, but the more you can get into that mindset of being relaxed and enjoying it, the better you’re going to play.”