Rory McIlroy believes he can handle the heightened expectation of playing an Open Championship on home soil as he targets the “most special” victory of his career.
More than 200,000 spectators are expected at Royal Portrush next month for the first Open to be staged in Northern Ireland since 1951.
The capacity for each championship day has been increased from 40,000 to 43,750 in an attempt to meet demand, with over 25,000 fans due to attend the practice days.
McIlroy and Portrush native Graeme McDowell will be the centre of attention, with McIlroy taking great confidence from his recent Open record as he tries to lift the Claret Jug for a second time and end a five-year major drought.
“There’s nothing that I’d like more than to lift that Claret Jug in front of all my friends and family,” McIlroy said. “Would it be my most special win? 100 per cent.
“I haven’t tried to hide that fact, that playing a major championship basically at home, I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to do that.
“It’s going be a massive week for golf, for the country, for me personally, and I have to go out there with a good mindset and not let the occasion get the better of me, hopefully, produce some good golf and give myself a chance.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win an Open Championship before and I’d dearly love to win another one.
“I think it obviously will make it more special if I could win at Portrush but I just have to treat it like every other Open Championship that I’ve played the last few years.”
McIlroy, who has a phenomenal Open record, added: “Obviously I won in ‘14, missed ‘15 (due to injury), then I was top five in ‘16, top five in ‘17, and then second last year.
“So I haven’t finished outside of the top five in an Open in a while, and I had a decent chance to win at Carnoustie last year.
“So I’m confident and I believe that I can turn up at Open Championships and compete.
“I feel like I’ve started to become really comfortable at that tournament so that obviously gives me optimism.
“I just have to go in with the same mindset as in other Opens I’ve played in, and I just have to harness that support and use it the best way I can.
“I believe I can treat the Open just like I treat any of the other Opens.
“You know, just because it is where it is, I’ll do the same thing, I’ll go through the same preparation, I’ll play practice rounds. I’ve done it hundreds of times before.”
McIlroy set the course record at Portrush with a round of 61 in the North of Ireland Championship as a 16-year-old, although the layout has since been changed with the previous 17th and 18th holes removed and two new ones built into the middle of the round.
“I’m going to a golf course that I played well on before,” the 30-year-old added.
“I know it better than most of the guys that are playing that week.
“I feel like I can go into it and treat it like any other Open Championship. I’ve played a lot of them.
“I’ve done well in a lot of them. So there’s no reason why I can’t do well with this one either.”