McIlroy will tee it up at Royal Portrush as a firm favourite with both the bookmakers and the local fans as he bids to end his lengthy major drought, which will extend beyond five years if he is not clutching the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.
The 30-year-old believes the most significant story this week is The Open returning to Portrush for the first since 1951, and he was keen to point out that the championship is “bigger than me”.
“I’m just treating this like any other Open Championship,” he said. “I’ve played well here for the last few years and I’ve played well on this golf course. So I’ve just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough.
“I’ve always felt I’ve played my best golf when I’ve been totally relaxed and loose, and maybe that environment is what I need. I’m not saying that that’s the way I’m going to approach it, but I’m still going to try to go out and shoot good scores and concentrate and do all the right things.
“But at the same time, I can’t just put the blinkers on and pretend that’s not all going on. This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general, and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me; right? This is bigger than me.
“If you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.
“So I think no matter what happens this week, if I win or whoever else wins, having The Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf. And I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country.”
The course has undergone a number of changes since McIlroy fired a course-record 61 as a 16-year-old in 2005, but he revealed he had played at Portrush only three times over the last year.
But he insisted the course set-up for The Open is essentially the same, and McIlroy is confident that the course knowledge he and caddie Harry Diamond already have will be a key asset this week.
“I played the week after the Ryder Cup, I played last Saturday, and then I played yesterday,” he added. “So that’s three times in the last year, and that’s sort of similar to what I would usually do at any other Open Championship.
“I feel like you can play a golf course so much you start looking at the places where you don’t want to hit it. I’ve played well here before, I know what I’m doing around here. I got here last Saturday thinking the course is going to change, the set-up for an Open might be different. And I got here, and it’s still the same place.
“And I’ve played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are. No matter if there’s grandstands around or if there’s not, or if there’s a lot of people or if there’s not, it’s the same golf course.”