Before the start of the tournament Rory McIlroy talks about his return to the Irish Open on the European Tour and the upcoming last Major of the current season.
Q. Welcome back to the Irish Open, and to Mount Juliet. You were out there playing today. Tell us how you got on. How is Mount Juliet looking today?
Rory McIlroy: It’s looking fabulous. Wonderful weather. Great golf course. It’s great. I’ve never played here before. I’ve been here to watch when the World Golf Championships were here in 2002 and 2004; we came down to watch, but a little different playing it. And, yeah, obviously vantage point is a little different, as well.
But yeah, it’s in great shape. I played the back nine today. I’ll play all 18 tomorrow in the Pro-Am. Landed this morning at 5.15 into Dublin, so it’s been a long day and pretty tired, but determined to stay up and watch England and Germany here in a little bit and we’ll go from there.
Q. Wondering about your memories of those tournaments in 2002 and 2004. Many champions here are major winners. Is that something that you feel that this is a course that maybe suits players of that calibre; that you should be up there this week because of that?
Rory McIlroy: Yeah, I hope so. I hope to continue that trend, that’s for sure.
Yeah, I remember quite a bit. I said to Harry, the last time I was on the 18th green here was during the prize ceremony when Tiger won, and I remember I somehow sneaked my way like under the rope onto the back of the green, and I was standing right behind him and his glove was still in his back pocket. And like I could have reached and got it and ran; it would have been a good story to tell him but I obviously didn’t.
It was the first time I ever watched Tiger play live. I remember the first shot I ever saw him hit was a drive off the 5th hole, the par 5, and he hit a 2-iron into the green. It was really cool. I idolised him growing up and to actually see the man in the flesh was pretty exciting.
And then in 2004, I was sort of — I had sort of made a name for myself in the amateur scene at that point and I had gotten to know Chubby and Darren and stuff, so I was a little more in the — I remember being in the clubhouse and stuff and meeting Ernie after he won. Had a little more access then because that have.
But yeah, really good memories coming down here watching. It’s amazing that it’s been 17 years and the tournament hasn’t been back since. Glad to be back and certainly a lot’s changed in the last 17 years since the last time I was here.
Q. You’re working on a few things with Pete Cowen and a couple majors have come and gone. What would be a good second half of the season? You have The Open coming up, the Olympics and The Ryder Cup. What would be a good end of season review if you were looking at it in four months’ time?
Rory McIlroy: Yeah, I think getting myself into contention in another major. So getting myself into contention at The Open would be great. I think having a chance to win both the FedExCup and The Race to Dubai; I think they are two pretty good goals of mine I’d like to try to achieve.
And yeah, like have a great Ryder Cup. Obviously that’s very important. There’s a lot of golf to play up until that point, but I’d say they are the main goals. Just give myself a chance at The Open. Give myself a chance in both FedExCup and Race to Dubai, and try to have a really good Ryder Cup.
Q. Thoughts on being back the at Irish Open for the first time since 2018?
Rory McIlroy: It’s feet like three years. A lot has happened since. I played Ballyliffin obviously in 2018. Made the decision not to play in 2019 because I felt like that was the best preparation for The Open at Portrush, and then obviously last year with the pandemic and everything. Things have started to open back up again, so it is nice to be back.
Yeah, it’s been a while. I haven’t been home. I haven’t been back here for nearly a couple years, and that’s the longest time I’ve spent away for a while. But it is, it’s nice to get back. I think if the weather was like this all the time, I’d probably want to come back more.
But it is, it’s great to be back and great to be playing an Irish Open again and got a look at the back nine at Mount Juliet today and it’s a great golf course.
This is the first time back at the Irish Open since you hosted it for four years, and that in itself brought a lot of extra pressure. Do you feel a weight is lifted? Does it feel different coming back to the Irish Open?
Rory McIlroy: A little bit. I think there’s always going to be a bit of added pressure when you come back and play an Irish Open, especially obviously being from here, but also being the favorite for the tournament and all that sort of stuff. So there’s always those sort of pressures. But I feel like as long as I just stick to my game plan and my own expectations and try to get the most out of myself, then that’s all I can do.
But yeah, I’m looking forward to this week. I feel like the Irish Open that I won at The K Club, it’s a pretty similar set up to what it is here. Might be a little firmer this week because of the weather. But decent parkland courses, it’s something familiar to me. It’s what I’ve been playing for the last couple years. Yeah, I feel good about my game.
So yeah, there’s always going to be pressure there. But I think if I just stick to what I’m doing and put my head down, I’ll be okay.
Q. You haven’t played in front of home fans since The Open; I know you’re excited to play in front of fans again since things opened up, but I’m sure this will be extra special this week?
Rory McIlroy: Yeah, it will. I mean, I wish more — it would be great if more fans were allowed in, but I understand that’s not quite possible at this time in this country. But it’s at least nice that we are playing in front of somebody, right.
Whenever we started back last year, when there was no fans allowed, it was a tough atmosphere to play in, and getting used to playing in front of fans again in the States has been really nice. It was great to get that win at Quail Hollow in front of a lot of people and being in contention at the U.S. Open with quite a few people there, as well.
This is a bit of a step back from what we’re used to over the last few weeks, but it’s better than playing in front of nobody.
Q. What did it mean to you to win this historic championship back in 2016?
Rory McIlroy: It meant an awful lot. The Irish Open has been a big part of my career. I first played this event as an amateur in 2005. I went to watch Irish Opens as a kid and I think as well, 2016 with the involvement with the foundation at that point, as well, and raising so much money and then obviously winning and having that prize money go to charity, as well, it meant a lot for a lot of reasons.
Personally it was great to win an Irish Open but also it meant a lot another ways, too, which was very fulfilling.
Q. Give us your impression of the course so far.
Rory McIlroy: It’s good. I think with the weather, it has the potential to become quite fiery over the week, which is going to make it play pretty short. It’s already a short enough golf course by modern standards. But it’s going to be tricky. Fairways are narrow. I think it’s got the potential to become quite fiddly, a lot of like just putting it in position and going from there.
I think if you’re smart, you can play pretty conservative with the par 4s. You can obviously take advantage of the par 5s and make birdie there. But there’s plenty of chances out there, and pretty sure the scoring is going to be pretty low.
Q. How are you feeling about your game coming in?
Rory McIlroy: I’m feeling good. I played well in the U.S. Open. Had a chance on the back nine. Things didn’t go obviously the way I wanted them to but I felt very encouraged walking away and some of the work I’ve been doing with Pete’s really started to bed in. I didn’t really do much last week because I’m on the road five of the next six weeks and just wanted to spend as much time with my family as possible because they are not on the road with me. I think I hit balls one day. So I’m looking forward to getting back into it this week.