When the 151st British Open begins on Thursday at the Royal Liverpool course in Hoylake, it will be exactly nine years since Northern Irish golf star Rory McIlroy won his first and only Open title on this very course in the west of England has.
The 2014 season was a golden golf year for McIlroy who, after his victory in the oldest golf tournament in the history of the game, added another major title to his name a month later by winning the American PGA title.
This title was McIlroy’s fourth major victory and the young European golf star had the golf world at his feet. Finally, there was someone who could follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods and take over the game’s mantle from the American.
Things ended up not going quite as hoped. Nearly 3,230 days later and the Northern Irishman still only has four major titles to his name. He is engaged in a fierce battle with the American Scottie Scheffler and the Spaniard Jon Rahm over who is actually the world’s best player.
At this stage, the world ranking says Scheffler is the no. 1 player, with McIlroy in second place and Rahm in third.
The 27-year-old Scheffler and the 28-year-old Rahm have won three major titles between them in the past two years, while the 34-year-old McIlroy has been unsuccessful.
In McIlroy’s defence, it must be mentioned that he has been in the race quite a few times; however, he was trumped a few times in the darts by opponents who dished up brilliant play – such as during last year’s British Open battle on St. Andrews.
McIlroy teed off as the joint leader on the last day and in windy conditions played a very decent score of 70 shots over the last 18 holes. An ice-cold set iron did hamper him, but the Northern Irishman did not fold under the pressure.
On the contrary, a fearless Cameron Smith overtook the leaders with a brilliant set piece and overtook him with a great score of 64, which finally gave the Aussie his first major title.
Smith won the Open title with brilliant and unprecedented great play; he didn’t get it on a tray because the other players folded.
Similarly, McIlroy won the Scottish Open last weekend with truly superb play, scoring birdies on the last two holes after approach shots that only champions can hit and that are not in any player’s arsenal.
Success and a fifth major title is really only in McIlroy’s own hands this week. His level of play has recently been of high quality and he finds himself on a golf course where he has previously achieved success and which suits his eye.
He just has to hope the weather conditions work in his favor when he plays on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. At this stage, the forecast is only sporadic light showers with the forecast wind classified as a breeze.
Saturday and Sunday, however, the weather has other plans and heavy rain and gale-force winds are predicted. It will be a battle for survival if that is the case, but if one man can keep his head above water when things go wrong, it is McIlroy.