Winning Open at St Andrews is golf's holy grail, says Rory McIlroy as he aims to be 'greedy'

By his own admission, Rory McIlroy is going to be “greedy”. He’d love to win The Masters and become just the sixth player to complete a career grand slam, but he also dreams of becoming Open champion at St Andrews.

“I don't know if a golfer's career isn't complete if you don't,” said the 2014 winner of that feat, speaking at a press conference ahead of the event’s 150th edition, which starts on Thursday on the Old Course, “but I think it’s the holy grail of our sport.

“Not a lot of people are going to get that opportunity to achieve that, but that's what winning an Open at St Andrews is. It's one of the highest achievements that you can have in golf.”

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McIlroy has only played in one Open at St Andrews, finishing tied for third behind the runaway winner, South African Louis Oosthuizen after opening with a 63 but then following that with a damaging 80.

Rory McIlroy speaks at a press conference ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

The Northern Irishman had been due to be the defending champion in 2015 only to find himself sidelined after injuring himself in a football kickabout.

“There's a lot of great players that have won Opens and maybe not had won Opens at St Andrews, so I think it's unfair to say that a golfer's career isn't complete without that,” he added. “But it's certainly up there with one of the greatest things you can do in our game.”

More so than The Masters due to the significance it now carries for him after already landing the game’s three other main prizes? “I guess it's both,” he said to thar. “Obviously I'd love to win both. And I'll be greedy and say that I'll take both.”

McIlroy is still kicking himself that he missed out on an opportunity to become the first player to card a 62 in a major after missing a three-foot birdie putt at the 17th in his spectacular opening round 12 years ago.

Tiger Woods walks over the Swilcan Bridge with partner Erica Herman during a practice round prior to The 150th Open at St Andrews. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images.

“That’s the one thing that sticks in my mind,” he replied to being asked about that roller-coaster first two days. “I didn’t quite get it done, so you can always be better.”

There has been lots of talk in the build up to this week’s showpiece edition about the possibility of the game’s big-hitters bringing the Old Course to its knees and even breaking 60.

“I don't think it matters,” said McIlroy of potential low scoring. “I don't think you're going to see that, though. With the condition of the golf course - the fairways are firm and fast - you can bomb it around here and hit driver and get it close to the greens, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make birdies from those positions.

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“I can see it being low enough, like getting into the sort of teens, but I can't see something in the 20-under-par range. I just think with the way the golf course is playing and how firm and fast it is, it's just going to get super tricky by the end of the week.”

McIlroy summed up the test ahead in the season’s final major when he was asked about Tiger Woods, a two-time winner at St Andrews. “It's going to be a game of chess this week,” he predicted, “and no-one's been better at playing that sort of chess game on a golf course than Tiger over the last 20 years.”

It’s been eight long years since McIlroy won a major. But, encouraged by decent efforts in the three so far this year, he’s hopeful that his drought could be about to end.

“I'm playing well. I'm in good form. My confidence in my game is as high as it's been in quite a while,” he said. I can't go in here thinking that this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament.

“I'm happy where everything's at, and I just can't get ahead of myself, and just have to make sure that I prepare well the next couple of days and get myself in the right frame of mind for Thursday.”

Having decided to skip last week’s Genesis Scottish Open, he paid a visit to Ballybunion with Woods to get acclimatised for links golf.

“I've played this course mostly in like September, October time for Dunhill, where it plays completely differently,” he said. “Then it's sort of hit driver everywhere, get it as close to the greens as you can, and then take your chances from there. I think this week you're going to maybe see guys laying back a little bit.

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“It's definitely a lot more of a strategic golf course when it plays like this. Yeah, even like the drive I hit on the 2nd hole yesterday – and that pin's in the middle of the green – I felt like I couldn't hit a chip shot that close, so I putted it from whatever, it was 60 yards.

“You'll see a lot of that this week. If you hit a lot of drivers, you may get close to some of these greens, and it would be advantageous to lay back and give yourself fuller wedge shots into some of these greens.”

McIlroy, who is on the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, may have been outspoken about LIV Golf over the past few months, but, according to him, that’s not a topic for this week.

Though “supporting” the R&A’s decision not to invite two-time winner Greg Norman, the breakaway circuit’s CEO and commissioner, to either the Celebration of Champions or Champions’ Dinner, he said: “It's The 150th Open Championship, and that's what we need to focus on.”

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