“Good time to back me, I think,” said the world No 4, smiling, on being informed that his odds this week are 20-1, more than double what he would normally be coming into this event or any of the other majors.
The generosity from the bookmakers – McIlroy is seventh on most betting lists – is understandable, of course, on the strength of the four-time major winner coming into this event on the back of three missed cuts in four starts.
But they will come tumbling down if the 28-year-old gets off to a good start on the Lancashire coast and he remains confident his game is very close to clicking despite last week’s latest early exit in the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links.
“If I was a betting company and I saw my form over the past few weeks, you would say, yeah, that’s probably a fair enough price,” admitted McIlroy. “But all it takes is one week for those odds to go back to, I don’t know, 7-1 or 8-1 at Quail Hollow (for next month’s US PGA Championship).
“I’m in good spirits. I feel like it’s all coming together. I’m just waiting for that round or that moment or that week where it sort of clicks and I’ll be off and running. I’ve had little periods like this before in my career, and I’ve been able to bounce back from them. I’d say I was in worse positions than this. I feel like the pieces are all there, it’s just about trying to fit them together.”
This event marks the 10th anniversary of McIlroy’s first Open Championship appearance, having claimed the Silver Medal as leading amateur when he was a mop-haired 18-year-old at Carnoustie, and he happily took a trip down memory lane during his preparations for the season’s third major in Southport.
“Last week at the Scottish Open up at Dundonald, across the railway line was Western Gailes, where the week before The Open in ’07 I played for Ireland in the European Team Championships. We won that,” he recalled. “Then I went across to Carnoustie, having qualified for that event by winning the European Amateur the year before.
“I played a few holes with [Nick] Faldo, played a few holes with Clarkey [Darren Clarke] and, as it was my first Open and my first major, I was just really enjoying it and trying to take it all in my stride and trying to learn as much as possible and play with some of these guys that had been there and done it. It was a great week and I remember a lot about it.”
His bid to give himself another special week to remember here could hinge on the 1-iron he’s put in his bag due to the fact that Birkdale is one of the most strategic tests on the Open rota, meaning his trusty driver won’t be used all that much. “I’ve put a 1-iron in the bag, which I’ll hit a lot this week,” he said. “It’s 16 degrees with a graphite shaft. With calm conditions, it probably runs out to 280, 290. It’s a great club to have this week. I feel like this is a golf course where you can’t really take it on too much. This golf course dictates how you play it and you know if you go out here this week and shoot four 68s or 69s, you’re going to have a really good chance to win.”
According to McIlroy, he is as hungry to do that in this event as he’s ever been. “I don’t need to win. A second Open Championship isn’t going to change my life. But I want to win. I’m still as ambitious now as I was starting off my career, if not more so now because I know what I’ve achieved and I know what I can achieve.”