Rory McIlroy knows only too well that success in major championships is never guaranteed, but would love to regain the Claret Jug at Carnoustie and complete his Open Championship circle.
McIlroy made his Open debut the last time Carnoustie hosted the event in 2007, the fresh-faced, curly-haired 18-year-old going on to win the silver medal as leading amateur.
He ended the week behind the 18th green as a makeshift babysitter for Padraig Harrington’s son Patrick, torn between hoping for an Irish winner or a first major title for one of his favourite players growing up, Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
Eleven years on, McIlroy returns to Carnoustie hoping to end a major drought which is closing in rapidly on four years, thereby setting up a defence of the title in his native Northern Ireland next year when the Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
“It’s great to be back,” McIlroy said. “It doesn’t seem like 11 years ago that The Open was here last. I hadn’t even turned pro yet and didn’t know what to expect or the journey that I was about to embark on.
“So to be back and be in a different position, to be talked about as one of the guys that could win, and to already have a Claret Jug is very nice, but obviously I want to add to my collection. It would be nice to win at Carnoustie, where I was able to pick up a silver medal a few years ago.
“I’ve had a decent career up until this point and I’ve got a lot of time left to add to my major tally. It’s hard to win any week on Tour, let alone the four big ones that we get a year.
“I was on a nice run there (in majors) from 2011 to 2014. I haven’t won one since, but I’m trying. I’m trying my best every time I tee it up and it just hasn’t happened. I’ll give it a good go this week.
“And if I were to head to Portrush with a Claret Jug in my possession, I’d obviously be very happy and be very proud to be the defending champion at a golf course that I know very well and playing in front of home fans.
“Geez, if it all worked out like that this week, I’d be one very happy man heading out of here.”
McIlroy won his first major title in the 2011 US Open, his second in the 2012 US PGA and then won both the Open and US PGA – with the Bridgestone Invitational sandwiched in between – in a four-week spell in 2014.
“I’ve always said that my performances in the majors at that point wasn’t the norm,” added McIlroy, who has played in 13 majors since victory at Valhalla and has either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them.
“That was above my normal level, then you go back down and then you build yourself back up again. Everything finds its balance. The 14 that Tiger won was him at the peak of his powers. We’re not all going to be like that every single time.
“As long as there’s points during the year where you can maybe get yourself to that level, then that’s great. If you put yourself in position enough times, you’ll hopefully find a way to get it done. I found a way to get it done four times, and hopefully I find a way to get it done a few more times before I’m finished.”