Rory McIlroy is ready to play with complete freedom as he tries to create history by ending his major drought at Pebble Beach.
McIlroy’s victories in the Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in 2014 make him the last player to win a PGA Tour event immediately before winning a major, but no player has ever followed a Tour victory with another at the US Open.
The 30-year-old can achieve that feat this week following his dominant victory in the RBC Canadian Open, where he closed with rounds of 64 and 61 to win by seven shots – the tournament’s biggest winning margin in 67 years.
McIlroy’s second victory of the season followed his only missed cut of 2019 in the Memorial Tournament and gave the former world number one a timely confidence boost as he tries to claim a first major title since that 2014 US PGA win at Valhalla.
“It’s an affirmation of what I can do when I play with complete freedom like I did over the weekend,” McIlroy said. “Even (when winning) the Players Championship I sort of had to grind it out. Conditions were tough.
“You’re sort of just hanging on, playing into the right spots, and I felt like this week I was free. I trusted myself 100 per cent and I hit the shots when I needed to.
“Honestly, this victory probably gives me more confidence than the one at the Players because I played the way I did and I was so free out there, especially given the position I was in.”
McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell was the only player not to finish over par when he won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, but McIlroy is determined not to take a defensive approach in the face of the expected punishing conditions.
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“I think when you get to the US Open set-up it can make you play careful, a little tentative and try to guide it down the fairways,” he added. “But if I’ve learned anything this week it’s my game is good enough and swing is good enough that I can play with freedom.
“I’m not going to go and hit driver on every hole, but when I pull a club out of the bag I’ll make a really good, committed swing and know for the most part it should work out for me.
“That confidence just came from my range sessions last weekend (after missing the cut at Muirfield Village) going into this week and the shots I was hitting on the course. My confidence just sort of grew all week.
“That freedom just to swing away and be committed to what I was doing, that’s really the difference between being in a final group and walking away with the trophy or not.”
McIlroy will partner Ryder Cup team-mate Jon Rahm and Australia’s Marc Leishman in the first two rounds at Pebble Beach, where he missed the cut in 2010.
Following his record-breaking victory at Congressional 12 months later, McIlroy’s best finish in the US Open is a tie for ninth at Chambers Bay in 2015, since when he has missed three straight halfway cuts.