‘If home crowds can’t help you, nothing can’, says golf star Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy plays his tee shot at the 4th during a practice round ahead of the start of the British Open golf championships at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. (AP)
Updated 17 July 2019

‘If home crowds can’t help you, nothing can’, says golf star Rory McIlroy

  • The world number three is the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on Sunday
  • British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951

PORTRUSH, United Kingdom: Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that he is not feeling extra pressure this week as the British Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, and is hoping home fans can help him end a five-year major drought.
The world number three is the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the Claret Jug for the second time on Sunday, despite not having claimed a major title since the 2014 PGA Championship.
He said in the past he struggled being the focus of attention at Irish Opens, although he did win that tournament in 2016.
“I think it’s probably easier this week because it’s such a big tournament,” said McIlroy, who opens his title tilt at Royal Portrush at 0909 GMT on Thursday alongside US Open winner Gary Woodland and England’s Paul Casey.
“You’ve got the best players in the world here, and I don’t feel like I’m the center of attention.
“I’m here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here. But at the same time, I mightn’t get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again.
“I’m really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.
“I’m going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can’t help you, then nothing can.”
McIlroy fired a course-record 61 on the Dunluce Links at the age of just 16 in 2005, and is one of three Northern Irish major champions in the field along with Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.
He said his first memories of Portrush came as a child when watching his father play.
“I remember chipping around the chipping green, being seven or eight years of age, my dad out playing on the Dunluce,” added McIlroy, who played a practice round on Tuesday.
“Portrush ... At least the golf club, has been a big part of my upbringing. It’s sort of surreal that it’s here.
“Even driving in yesterday, when you’re coming in on the road and you look to the right and you’ve got the second tee... I don’t know who was teeing off, maybe (American player) Tony Finau and someone else, (it was) sort of strange to see them here.
“But it’s really cool.”
Since McIlroy’s record the course has been renovated, with the seventh and eighth new holes.
But the 30-year-old said he did not have to spend too much time preparing on the course, such is his familiarity with it.
“I had dinner booked with a parent on Saturday night at 8:00, thinking I’m going to have to spend some time around the greens and just prepare.
“And I got on the road back home and rang them and said, ‘Can we move dinner up?’ Because I finished early. There’s no difference. It’s the same golf course.”
McIlroy has been in strong form this year, winning twice, including the Players’ Championship, and posting 11 top-10 finishes.
He also finished in a tie for second at the Open at Carnoustie last year.
“I think it’s probably the most consistent period of golf I’ve ever played,” the 2014 champion said.


Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

Updated 28 January 2020

Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

  • Barty aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open
  • She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major

MELBOURNE, Australia: Top-ranked Ash Barty is a step closer to ending a long drought for Aussies at the national championship.
Barty saved set points in the 11th game and another in the tiebreaker before seizing the momentum against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a 7-6 (6), 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena. She next faces No. 14 Sofia Kenin, who reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur.
Barty fended off eight of the nine break-point chances she faced in the first set before finally getting the upper hand when she won a 22-shot rally, defending for much of it just to stay in the point, at 3-2 in the tiebreaker.
After clinching the first set in 69 minutes, she went on a roll to take a 4-0 lead in the second and take all the momentum away from Kvitova, who beat Barty here at the same stage last year before losing the final to Naomi Osaka.
Barty rebounded from that to win her first major title at the French Open, where she beat Kenin in the fourth round. Until she arrived in Australia, Kenin’s run at Roland Garros — which included a third-round upset over Serena Williams — was her best at a Grand Slam.
There’s a lot of local expectation riding on Barty, who is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open. The first major of the decade may see the end of the 42-year wait, and an Australian man hasn’t won since 1976. Barty is already the first Australian woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of the home Open.
Barty doesn’t expect to feel the pressure. She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major.
“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” Barty said of her next match.
Kenin and Jabeur were both into the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.
For Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved to the United States as a baby and grew up in Florida, the degree of difficulty will only increase.
“I’m in the semis,” she said, when asked for her preference of semifinal rival. “Anyone I play, they’re playing really well.”
Kenin is playing her best tennis, too. Her best previous run at Melbourne Park ended in the second round, when she lost to Simona Halep last year.
She finished last year ranked 14th, and could match Barty in one category: they were tied for most hard-court wins on the women’s tour last year with 38 wins each.
Kenin’s run here included a comeback win in the third round against 15-year-old Coco Gauff, when she made only nine unforced errors across the second and third sets.
In the second set against Jabeur, she saved three break points in a long sixth game, then broke serve in the seventh game to set up the win.
“It was a tough moment,” Kenin said. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes (but) it was pretty long, the game. After that I got my momentum.”
Jabeur, a 25-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab woman to make it to the last eight at a major.
“Ï think I proved that I can be in the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally,” she said. “But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things.”
In later men’s quarterfinals, 20-time major winner Roger Federer was playing 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren, and seven-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had a night match against Milos Raonic of Canada.