Rory McIlroy admits it is hard to argue with being rated a 20/1 chance to win the Open Championship, but believes he can defy the odds and regain the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale.
McIlroy comes into the third major championship of the season on the back of three missed cuts in his last four events, including back-to-back early exits from the Irish Open - where he was defending champion - and last week’s Scottish Open.
The last player to miss consecutive cuts immediately before winning a major was American Webb Simpson, who claimed the 2012 US Open at Olympic Club, while Louis Oosthuizen was the most recent to do so in the Open in 2010.
And although McIlroy concedes he sounds like a “broken record” when he claims to be close to regaining top form when results suggest otherwise, he could not help raising an eyebrow when told about his pre-tournament odds.
“Good time to back me, I think,” McIlroy said with a smile. “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.
“But again, all it takes is one week for those odds to go back to, I don’t know, 7/1, 8/1 at Quail Hollow (for next month’s US PGA Championship). So as I say, good week to back me.”
McIlroy has twice been sidelined this season with a rib injury suffered during extensive equipment testing over the winter, meaning he has played just 10 events despite the late addition of the Scottish Open to his schedule.
The Northern Irishman’s last appearance in the event was back in 2014 and the following week he led from start to finish to win the Open at Hoylake - around 30 miles away from Birkdale - before recording victories in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA in consecutive starts.
Even McIlroy himself got caught up with expectations of a period of Tiger Woods-style dominance, but he has not truly threatened to win a major since, in spite of five top-10 finishes.
“I have been able to play golf in stretches that, if I continued that type of golf for six, seven, eight years, I would be able to win a lot more,” he added.
“But golf is so fluid and so you’re always trying to evolve. The thoughts that I might have had when I won at Hoylake mightn’t work for me now. It’s almost like life, there’s ups and downs, and it’s never sort of that linear sort of direction.
“When I won those three tournaments in ‘14, I was going into the Masters the next year thinking I can win the (career) grand slam, I can do this, I can do that, and some things just come along that you don’t expect and that’s really been a couple of injuries the last couple of years that stopped me in my tracks.
“I wish I was here being the number one player in the world and won a couple more majors and whatever but I haven’t.
“But I’m working on it. I’m trying to get back there and I’m doing everything I can. And hopefully the start of that crest of a wave happens this week.
“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. It only makes you want to do that even more.
“If someone told me (10 years ago) you’re going to be a four-time major winner and you won The Open, and you’re one leg away from the career Grand Slam, you’ve played on three winning Ryder Cup teams, you’ve won the Order of Merit three times in Europe, you’ve won the FedExCup in the States I’d be, like, yeah, I’ll take that!”
That’s pretty good.
“But having that success, you only want to do that more. And you want to emulate that and you want to do it again and again and again. So I definitely haven’t lost the hunger that I’ve always had.”