By Steve Keating
PEBBLE BEACH, California (Reuters) – If momentum counts for anything Rory McIlroy will be riding a wave when he hits the scenic beachside layout for the opening round of the U.S. Open on Thursday looking to end a nearly five year major drought.
After closing rounds of 64 and 61 to cap a rampaging win at the Canadian Open on Sunday, McIlroy will be hoping his blazing finish translates into a hot start at the Pebble Beach Golf Links setting him up for a title challenge.
With two PGA Tour titles already in the bank this season, McIlroy’s game has been firing on all cylinders with the exception of the majors where he has sputtered, particularly in the early rounds.
At the Masters the Northern Irishman’s opening one-over 73 was his worst of the four rounds while it was a similar launch at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black where he carded a two-over 72 to leave him playing from behind right from the outset.
“My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year just sort of put me a little bit behind the eight ball,” McIlroy told his pre-tournament media conference on Wednesday.
“And it’s hard to catch up. Especially major championships are played on the toughest courses, and you start to chase on those really tough courses, it’s hard to do that.
“The majors that I’ve won, I’ve started every single one of them really well, runs in sort of the mid-60s, and I think that’s sort of what’s held me back a little bit.”
In his other win this season at the Players Championship, Mcllroy underscored his front-runner status when he opened with rounds of 67 and 65 and took the pressure off slightly as he closed with 70s on Saturday and Sunday.
McIlroy’s 2011 U.S. Open win also benefited from a quick start with rounds of 65 and 66 but never let his foot off the gas following up with a 68 and 69 for a 16-under 268 total that remains the lowest score for 72 holes at the tournament.
“Some people say it’s nice to be a couple back going into the final round. I’d rather be in front,” he said.
“I feel like when you get in front, it gives you a lot of confidence and you go from there.
“I feel like the times that I have led for the most part I have been pretty good in that position.
“I guess I’d call myself a decent frontrunner.”