Rory McIlroy is deliberately trying to keep his Open Championship campaign low key as expectations rocket about the possibility of him securing a home win in Northern Ireland.
The four-time major winner was born and raised 65 miles away in Holywood, just outside Belfast, and has been a regular visitor to Royal Portrush since his early childhood, with his 10th birthday present involving a trip to the course, where he met Darren Clarke.
He shot a course-record 61 as a 16-year-old in the 2005 North of Ireland Amateur and, with Open finishes of fifth, fourth and second in the last three years, is the bookies’ favourite to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday.
Despite that McIlroy, who admits he will probably cry if he wins on home soil, tried to insist he feels like less of a star attraction in these parts this week than at any other time.
“I think it’s probably easier this week because it’s such a big tournament. You’ve got the best players in the world here,” he told a packed press conference at which there was standing room only.
“I’m from Northern Ireland and I’m playing at home but I don’t see myself as that centre of attention, I guess. I’m here to enjoy myself.
“I’ve sort of tried to keep it low key. If I’m honest, it hasn’t felt any different than any other Open Championship.”
McIlroy, alongside Masters champion and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods, will command the biggest galleries this week.
The 30-year-old is hoping to harness that support to propel him to a second Open victory, his first coming at Royal Liverpool in 2014.
But he also intends not to allow the attention to become restrictive.
“That can go one of two ways, right? I’ve always felt I’ve played my best golf when I’ve been totally relaxed and loose and maybe that environment is what I need,” he added.
Rory McIlroy’s major wins
- US Open (2011)
- PGA Championship (2012 & 2014)
- Open Championship (2014)
“I’m not saying that that’s the way I’m going to approach it. I’m still going to try to go out and shoot good scores and concentrate and do all the right things.“But at the same time I can’t just put the blinkers on and pretend that’s not all going on.
“One of my mantras this week is, ‘Look around and smell the roses’. This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege.
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“I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me.
“I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off.
“I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.”
McIlroy also played down the significance of his course record-setting achievement at the links as a teenager, especially with the modifications – the creation of two new holes and extra yards added – which have taken place since.
Although, he admits the general view of the course remains familiar to him.
“It’s the same golf course. I think I was making it a little bit bigger in my head than it needed to be,” said the world number three, who has played Portrush just three times since September and admits caddie Harry Diamond, a very competent golfer in his own right, has more competitive experience here.
“I’ve played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are.
“No matter if there’s grandstands around or if there’s not, or if there’s a lot of people or if there’s not, it’s the same golf course.
“I’ve just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough.”