Rory McIlroy plays down his chances of winning The Open Championship 2018

IF YOU are a Rory McIlroy supporter, it was not the tub-thumping, fist-pumping speech you wanted to hear.

In fact, pretty much everything McIlroy said yesterday seemed designed to dampen expectations of a fifth Major triumph.

McIlroy isn’t expecting to win at Carnoustie

McIlroy isn’t expecting to win at Carnoustie

And when you analyse his performances in pursuit of the Claret Jug — and the widely-held theory that he is blown off course a bit too easily when the wind picks up — perhaps it is easy to see why.

McIlroy won the title at Hoylake in 2014 when it was relatively calm, but was unable to defend it at St Andrews when he ruptured ankle ligaments playing football.

He finished joint-fifth behind Henrik Stenson at Troon in 2016 but was 16 shots adrift of the winner and never really threatened last year when he finished in a tie for fourth.

The Holywood star, 29, said: “I was a little bit surprised that my best form in recent Majors has been this tournament.

Shane Lowry beat Rory McIlroy in a practice match at Carnoustie on Wednesday

Getty Images

Shane Lowry beat Rory McIlroy in a practice match at Carnoustie on Wednesday

“It’s been a good run and I’ve played well. But even the fifth and the fourth the past couple of years, I haven’t really contended.

“Henrik and Phil Mickelson were so far ahead of everyone else at Troon and I was on the fringes of contention when Jordan Spieth made that bad start last year at Birkdale.

“But I made bogey on 15 and that really stopped me in my tracks.

“I do feel like I’ve developed and grown as a links player.

“I’ve added a few shots and a few things to my game that have helped over the last few years.

“Hopefully I can keep that run going this year and maybe get myself a little bit closer to being in the mix on Sunday.”

That last sentence was hardly a rip-roaring declaration of intent and McIlroy was even more downbeat when asked why he has gone four years without adding a Major to the quartet he won between 2011 and 2014.

He said: “The more success you have, the more pressure you put on yourself because of expectation that that’s your level and what you need to attain the whole time.

“The fields in golf have become that much deeper.

“Even this week, there are 156 guys in the field and probably over half of them have a realistic chance of winning.

Rory Mcilroy reflects on memories of 2007 Open Championship and says he is ‘trying to win’

“I didn’t play in previous eras but I don’t think there were that many when half the field had a realistic chance of winning the tournament.

“I’ve always said my performances in the Majors at that point, in 2014, that wasn’t the norm. That wasn’t my normal level.

“That was above my normal level and then you go back down and build yourself back up again. But everything finds its balance.

“Even the 14 that Tiger Woods won, that wasn’t his norm. That was him at the peak of his powers, that was him at his 100 per cent best.

“There are going to be times where you struggle with this and with that.

“As long as there are points during the year where you can get yourself to that level, then that’s great.

“You look at Jordan, who has had a nice little run — he’s won three Majors in three years. I had a nice one, I won four in four.

“If you continue to do stuff like that you’re going to be one of the greatest of all time but that’s very hard.

“There’s only really been one guy that’s done it for a ten-year period where he’s won that many and that was Tiger.

“It was 11 years and he won 14 Major championships. That is pretty ridiculous in anyone’s book.

“I’m certainly not expecting to go on that sort of a tear, as long as I give myself chances and I’m in contention most of the time when I’m playing a Major.

“I feel like, if you put yourself in position enough times, you’ll find a way to get it done. Hopefully I find a way to get it done a few more times before I’m finished.”

You get the sense McIlroy is not exactly brimming with confidence.

But if he is not going to lift the Claret Jug, who is? For recent form in the Majors, Patrick Reed is your man — second in last year’s USPGA, victory at The Masters and fourth at the US Open.

But he has something to prove on links courses, with two missed cuts and a best finish of 12th in four Open starts to date.

Defending champion Spieth has rarely looked like winning this year and unless he gets his putting mojo back he will not retain the crown.

Rickie Fowler looks a natural on the links but has been found wanting a few times when the big prize was within his grasp.

It is hard to know what you will get from the men at the top of the world rankings, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.


And then there is Woods, ten years on from his last Major win.

He could not add to his tally when he was playing a lot better than he has recently, so why now?

Maybe McIlroy is right. It really could be any one of 78 players in the 156-man field.

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