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McIlroy will try to buck Open trend

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Rory McIlroy will arrive in San Francisco in June aiming to become the first player to successfully defend the U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989.

He cannot explain the gap between repeat winners, but hopes to buck a near quarter-century trend beginning June 14.

'It's the toughest test that we face all year and I'm not sure why there hasn't been a repeat champion, but obviously I'm going to try my hardest to make that happen this year,' McIlroy said Monday.

He will defend his title on an Olympic Club track playing 7,170 yards - 373 longer than the last Open there in 1998. Lee Janzen won that year at even-par 280. McIlroy was just 9 years old back then. He has never played the host course, but has an idea of what to expect.

'From what I've heard it's a really good setup and I know they have made a few changes to it this year for the U.S. Open, but I'm excited to get up there and see what it's like,' McIlroy said.

A year ago, McIlroy won at Congressional with a record total of 16 under par. Another 19 golfers beat par that week, on a course dampened by rain during the tournament and baked to the edge beforehand. McIlroy knows that was an aberration.

'I think that if the weather permits this year in San Francisco, we'll get the golf course firm and fast and it will be tricky,' he said, indicating par would be a good score.

The message from the U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis is clear: Par will be better protected. He said the opening six holes at Olympic will be the toughest in his memory.

'The first six holes in particular, if you can get through those 1  or 2 over par, I can promise you you're going to be beating most of the rest of the field,' Davis said.

Davis believes the lack of length compared to recent Open courses will not be a problem for the San Francisco club. In the most democratic of major championships, the layout of the course will require the modern player to work the straighter, modern ball both ways.

'A straight ball will never hurt you, but here at Olympic Club being able to curve it one way or another really can benefit you,' Davis said.

'This year I could see a short-ball hitter winning, a long-ball hitter or somebody in between. It's just, can you maneuver it around?'