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McIlroy Scottish Open bound with weight of a nation on his shoulders

- Reuters

If it sounds like Rory McIlroy is singing a familiar tune ahead of the Scottish Open this week.

It’s not because he talks in cliches (he doesn’t), it’s because he’s in the exact same position he was in last month in Canada.

“Playing with one eye looking toward the Open championship next week, but it’s a big event,” McIlroy told Sky Sports .

In Hamilton this past June, McIlroy embraced our national championship and its history, taking a very different tack than World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who said he didn’t care how he played as long as he left Canada with his game in good shape. It ended with a win in Canada for McIlroy and now he’s back in the same situation at the Scottish Open at The Rennaisance Club in North Berwick, ahead of next week’s British Open.

“I want to get a card in my hand, I want some competitive golf, I obviously want to win national championships, they are big events in our game … I don’t think there is any better way to prepare for a major than getting into contention the week before.”

It’s been quite a year for Rory who entered the season with a new philosophy not just on golf, but on life. Now married and 30 years old, McIlroy found his golf game taking over his life. If he played well, he’d bring the good mood home. But if he played poorly, that also followed him home. As a golfer, he had a long history of volatility on the course. Even during his best seasons, he was nearly as likely to win a tournament as he was to finish near the bottom of the leaderboard or even miss the cut.

Good mood, bad mood, good mood, bad mood. McIlroy decided there had to be a better way to live, so he got to work hoping that along the way he might even find a better way to golf. He talked to former PGA Tour player Brad Faxon, he talked to doctors, he read self-help books, worked on meditation, and what he calls the three Ps — perspective, persistence and poise.

“Look, I’m not going to go and live with the monks for a couple of months in Nepal, but just to be able to get your mind in the right place and be able to focus and to center yourself,” McIlroy said prior to the Masters in April.

Always one of the sports most thoughtful, charming, and engaging interviews, it’s impossible to say what it’s done for his personal life, but on the golf course, he found a consistency he had never seen. McIlroy began 2019 in great form with nothing below a tie for sixth place through five tournaments. But golf is a fickle sport — especially at the top — and some began wondering why McIlroy wasn’t winning. Part of his new philosophy was to stay away from the noise, so it’s not like he was spending his free time googling his name.

McIlroy himself admitted that on the golf course he was heading into a bit of unknown.

For all its faults, a volatile golf game full of highs and lows had put McIlroy in the winner’s circle regularly his entire life and won him three major championships. He even explained earlier in the year that in today’s packed fields of hyper-talented, hyper-aggressive players, volatility works because you need to be flying high to separate yourself. But McIlroy was willing to bet on himself, willing to bet that he was even more than his prodigal talents had already shown, that he could maintain a level that would have him compete and win virtually every week he teed it up.

In March, at his sixth start of 2019 — a year and a week after his last victory — Rory silenced critics with a win at the Players Championship. Now, through 13 events in 2019, McIlroy has 11 top tens, including two wins and a runner-up. Seemingly gone is the volatility.

But (there’s always a but) he’s heading to the season’s final major without tasting serious contention. Part of the reason McIlroy was looking forward to playing more consistently is that he assumed it would have his game more often prepared for the majors. At the Masters and PGA Championship he didn’t break 70 in the first two rounds. He got off to a better start at the U.S. Open but come Sunday, it quickly turned into a battle between Gary Woodland and Koepka.

Next week, McIlroy will arrive at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. It’s the first British Open in his home country since 1951 and it’s at a course where the course record 61 he set as a teenager still stands.

Perspective, persistence and poise is his mantra. Next week, with The Open and the prodigal son both returning to Northern Ireland, poise will be tested like never before. Perspective? No matter which angle you look at it, this is the biggest tournament of his year and maybe his life. That leaves persistence. McIlroy sounds the same as he did in Canada, and his belief in his new philosophy seems as strong as ever.

But as anyone who follows golf knows, a lot can change in a week.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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