Rory McIlroy is hopeful that a forced change of plans “worked for the better” as he seeks to end his major drought with a second Open Championship win.
cIlroy will take part in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Mount Juliet this week and has been teamed up with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and American John Catlin in the first two rounds. Shane Lowry will play alongside Jonathan Caldwell (Northern Ireland) and Martin Kaymer (Germany), while Padraig Harrington will play alongside Thomas Detry (Belgium) and Andy Sullivan (England)
McIlroy had originally planned to take a week off before the 149th Open at Royal St George’s.
However, with strict coronavirus controls in place for the last major championship of the year, McIlroy has left his wife Erica and daughter Poppy in the United States and added the Scottish Open to his schedule as he seeks a first. major title since 2014.
The players and their support teams were briefed on the settlement last week and said up to four people could stay in private rental accommodation, but only if they were part of the player support group.
“Until last week my family was going to travel with me and we were going to stay here for three weeks,” McIlroy said. “My original plan was to play here, take a week off, and then play the Open.
“With me being exempt as an athlete and the restrictions not being as onerous for me as they would be for Erica and Poppy, I thought it wasn’t fair to put them through what they were doing. should cross to be here with me.
“The plans changed very quickly and we decided that I would travel alone and, because I wasn’t going back to the States for a week, I figured that if I was here I might as well play against the Scotsman (Open).
“It went quickly from them not to come and then to me playing three events in a row.
“It’s good to have a tournament on a tie course before going to Sandwich so everything has probably gone well for the best.”
McIlroy held a share of the lead early in the US Open final round earlier this month, but bogeyed the 11th and double bogeyed the 12th en route to a tie for seventh.
“I was very encouraged to leave Torrey Pines,” added the four-time major winner. “To have a share of the lead on the last day through a few holes. I gave myself a good chance.
“The only thing I don’t care about is the double bogey on 12, it was the rather sloppy three putts on 11 that stopped the momentum.
McIlroy has never performed at Mount Juliet before, but revealed it was the scene of a memorable first encounter with childhood idol Tiger Woods at the WGC-American Express Championship in 2002.
“The last time I was on the 18th green here was at the awards ceremony when Tiger won and I remember slipping under the rope to the back of the green,” McIlroy said.
“I was standing right behind him and his glove was still in his back pocket. I could have reached him and had him and run away – that would have been a good story to tell him.
“It was my first time watching Tiger play live. The first shot I saw him hit was a drive from the fifth hole, the par five, and he hit a two iron into the green and that was really cool.
“I idolized him growing up and seeing the man in the flesh was pretty exciting.”
Selected departure times on Thursday
08:00 am 10th start: Shane Lowry (Ireland), Jonathan Caldwell (NI), Martin Kaymer
8:10 am 10th start: Padraig Harrington (Ireland), Thomas Detry (Belgium), Andy Sullivan (England)
9:20 am 1st tee: Cormac Sharvin (NI), Paul Dunne (Ireland), Gregory Havret (France)
12:50 p.m. 1st tee: Wilco Nienaber (South Africa), Christian Bezuidenhout (South Africa), Niall Kearney (Ireland)
1:00 p.m. 1st tee: Rory McIlroy (NI), John Catlin (USA), Tommy Fleetwood (USA)
1:10 p.m. 1st tee: Graeme McDowell (NI), Thomas Pieters (Belgium), Richard Bland (England)