UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – This major feels a bit different for Rory McIlroy.
No career Grand Slam hype.
No big-time win this month that stirred the masses.
“It’s much quieter,” he said Tuesday.
Blame consecutive missed cuts overseas for that, when McIlroy was mentally fried after playing five consecutive weeks all over the globe.
After his whirlwind stretch, he had a couple of sponsor outings and a biomechanical testing session before he spent three days in London as a tourist. All of the walking that week, he joked, turned out to be good preparation for the significant elevation changes he encountered at Chambers Bay. Upon returning home to South Florida, McIlroy had a solid week of practice.
He’s still the betting favorite, of course, but the vibe here is decidedly different than it was, say, two months ago, when every start prior to the Masters he was asked about chasing the career Grand Slam. He eventually finished fourth at Augusta.
“I’m just being able to go about my business,” he said. “Obviously not fly under the radar, but there’s not as much attention or much hype. There’s not as much on my mind about what I can achieve.”
One of the main knocks on the world No. 1 is that he hasn’t fared well on firm, fast layouts. His critics are quick to point out that even his Open title last year at Hoylake was unusual – the course was slowed by overnight rain and played easier because of the relative lack of wind.
Still, he views an already-on-the-edge Chambers as a good fit for his game, which means plenty of booming, corner-cutting drives and high-launching irons.
“If you can carry the ball like 295, 300 in the air this week, you’re going to have a big advantage,” said McIlroy, and he most certainly is one of those players.
As for those ugly MCs at the BMW PGA and Irish Open, which came on the back end of five tournaments in a row? Don’t read too much into it. He was drained, mentally. And he tried to adapt his game to Royal County Down, to hit half-shots and play the ball along the ground, but ultimately that’s not his style.
“I think that’s just the way I’m going to be,” he said. “I’d rather in a six-tournament period have three wins and three missed cuts than six top-10s. Volatility in golf is actually a good thing. If your good weeks are really good, it far outweighs the bad weeks.”
And if it all makes for a quieter run-up to the U.S. Open, well, McIlroy doesn’t seem to mind one bit.