Seven years on, McIlroy is back as the world No 2 and as a major winner. But he is also desperate to hit back from four missed cuts in his last five starts.
The Holywood star sounded upbeat as he said: “The first-ever European Tour event to sell out is something that’s obviously got a lot of people very excited and it’s shaping up to be a great week,” he said. “I’ve put ten days of really good work in. My game feels good – it actually felt pretty good at the US Open. It’s just that if you are slightly off at a US Open it’s so hard to get yourself into contention.
“It couldn’t be a better time to come back and play Portrush. It brings back so many good memories and you can feed off that.”
The main memory, of course, is that 61. “I can basically remember every shot. It was just one of those days where everything is on song. I turned three under, eagled 10, birdied 11, parred 12 and 13 and then birdied my way in. I’ve only had it a few times. People call it ‘in the zone’ – I got to six under and wanted to get to seven under, then I wanted to get to eight under.” He finished 11 under. “Seven years ago – time goes pretty quickly,” he said.
And what a seven years for Irish golf. Dubliner Padraig Harrington achieved back-to-back Open Championship and back-to-back major wins in 2007 and 2008, then came Graeme McDowell’s US Open victory two years ago – the first by any European since 1970.
Twelve months later McIlroy kept that trophy in Northern Irish hands and, a month after that, 42-year-old Darren Clarke won the Open at Sandwich.
“I think it’s just been a knock-on effect. It all started back with Padraig, what G-Mac did really inspired me and then Darren sees us – me especially, being the little 12-year-old that he took down as part of his foundation in Portmarnock. He’s probably thinking ‘if that little squirt can do it, so can I’.”