Rory McIlroy is starting to feel right at home at Shinnecock Hills.
The question now: Will familiarity breed success for the native of Northern Ireland?
“I love the golf course, especially with how the conditions have been, especially (Tuesday) with a bit of wind and the dryness,” McIlroy said of Shinnecock during his media conference Wednesday morning. “It sort of reminds me of some of the courses from back home a little bit, the way the golf course has been playing.”
Teeing off at 8:02 a.m. ET Thursday in a star-studded group with Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson in the season’s second major, McIlroy, 29, has the benefit of adding a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational since his Sunday struggles and a faltering fifth-place finish at the Masters in April.
But he knows the set-up of the course will affect who bubbles to the top come Sunday and who survives, with Mother Nature taking a hand, too.
“It really depends on the wind direction here,” he said. “I think it’s been great for a lot of the guys that we’ve been able to see this golf course in different winds. … You know, it’s a U.S. Open. It’s primarily a second shot golf course.”
Speaking of second shots: The venerable golf course is getting one itself. Fourteen years ago, the USGA took a great deal of criticism for its setup and how dry it allowed the greens to become by Sunday. Some described them as unfair to unplayable, with the green at the par-3 seventh especially coming in for criticism.
In the context of this year’s event then, McIlroy was posed a philosophical question. When you think of the U.S. Open, do you think you’re supposed to be tested or punished?
McIlroy’s diplomatic answer: “Tested, but punished if you hit a bad shot.”
And as for him and his playing partners, a trio of players each of whom is a win away from a career Grand Slam, most notably Mickelson, at 48 and the clock ticking, who is shy a U.S. Open title? McIlroy expects they’ll try “focus on the positives.”
“Look, Phil’s had six runner-ups at this event. He’s played wonderfully. It’s just someone’s played a little better at a certain week or maybe he made a mistake at the wrong time. It’s not as if he’s had a poor U.S. Open record. His U.S. Open record is incredible,” McIlroy said. “Like I said, this is another opportunity for him, as it will be for Jordan at the PGA, as it will be for me again next year April again (at the Masters).”
So there you have it. A man with a plan. And a history at this event. On a course that fits him like a nifty gilet. In a first-36 group that can take the single spotlight off him. That’s a comfortable feeling.
“It’s going to be a great test. I think the golf course is great. A little bit of wind will make it interesting,” he said. “Should be in for a great tournament.”