McIlroy feels ‘more confident than ever’ of ending major drought

Holywood’s Tom McKibbin is also in the field at U.S. Open

IF RORY McIlroy was looking for a confidence boost ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, then a four-over-par final round of 76 at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio wasn’t what the doctor ordered.

But the Holywood native, who is looking to end a decade-long wait since he last won a major championship, will take heart from the fact he has produced some of his best major golf at this very event, where he’s posted top-10 finishes in each of his last five U.S. Open starts.

It has been suggested that recent events away from the golf course might have affected McIlroy on it. He remains a key figure in discussions around the controversial merger between the PGA and LIV Tours and, last month, he filed for a divorce from his wife Erica.

But on Tuesday evening, it emerged that the divorce had been called off with a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal being submitted on his behalf at the Palm Beach County Courthouse.

McIlroy told the Guardian that responding to ‘each rumour’ about his personal life is ‘a fool’s game’, adding: “Over the past weeks, Erica and I have realised that our best future was as a family together.

“Thankfully, we have resolved our differences and look forward to a new beginning.”

Speaking to the world’s golf media at Pinehurst, McIlroy said he feels ‘more confident than ever’ of ending his drought for a major title.

“If someone had told me at 20 years old I’d be sitting here at 35 and this is the career I’ve had, I would not have believed them and I would have been ecstatic.

“I’m really proud of my body of work over the past 15 years and everything that I have achieved, whether it be season-long titles or individual tournaments or majors.

“Obviously, getting my hands on a fifth major has taken quite a while, but I’m more confident than ever that I’m right there, that I’m as close as I’ve ever been.”

McIlroy isn’t the only player SPILL HERE

SPILL: who they’ll be rooting for at his hometown club in Holywood this week. Rising DP World Tour star Tom McKibbin, who also learnt his trade at the County Down venue, is set to tee it up in his first-ever major championship having booked his place through qualifying at the end of last month.

The 21 year-old has described the test served up by Pinehurst No. 2 as ‘brutal’, but hopes the feeling of being involved in a major is something that will become routine in years to come.

“I think after this week’s over, I will want to come back every year. So it probably puts a bit of fire in the belly to work hard and make sure I’m playing more of these tournaments,” McKibbin said.

“I just want to see where my game is at by the end of the week compared to all these guys that I’ve watched on TV for a while.

“It’s definitely the biggest event I’ve ever played – there are more people here on a Monday than I’ve ever seen at a European Tour event.”

McKibbin, whose breakthrough victory came at the European Open 12 months ago, believes he’s a ‘much better player’ than he was this time last year, but is wary of the challenge ahead of him in North Carolina.

“It’s pretty brutal. I wouldn’t say it’s linksy compared to back home, but the greens are something I’ve never really seen before. You can hit a pretty decent shot and it can go 20, 30 yards off the side, so I think that’s something that I need to get my head around.”

World Number One Scottie Scheffler, who McIlroy described as ‘relentless’, is going to take some stopping as he looks to make it a remarkable six wins from his last nine starts.

McIlroy has been paired in a marquee three-ball with the Texas native and Californian Xander Schauffele for the opening two rounds, a grouping which, according to world rankings at least, contains the best three players in the sport.

Meanwhile, McKibbin will begin his first outing at a major alongside Rico Hoey of the Philippines and Italy’s Matteo Manassero.