The Northern Irishman hopes a fresh mindset will help him land a fifth major title

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McIlroy Out To Recapture 22-Year-Old Mindset At Torrey Pines

Rory McIlroy insists his game is in a good place physically and technically going into the US Open, and is targeting more freedom as he attempts to clinch his first major title in almost seven years. 

The Northern Irishman recently started working with veteran coach Pete Cowen in a bid to address some flaws that had crept into his swing as he pursued more distance off the tee, and that work paid dividends almost immediately with the 32-year-old bagging his first PGA Tour win in 18 months at the Wells Fargo Championship. 

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But it’s his form in majors that he’s now eager to put right. Without a win in one of golf’s four marquee events since August 2014, and with an ever-deepening well of talent emerging that is capable of turning up any given Sunday and upsetting the established order, McIlroy admits he needs to start trusting himself again.

“I feel good. Pete and I had a few really good days in Florida last week,” he said. “The technical and mechanical parts of it are all there. 

“It’s just a matter of going out in a US Open setting and just trusting what I’ve been doing in practice, and then that gets more into the mental side of things and just being really clear and really committed in what you’re trying to do and being as free on the course as I am on the range. 

“That’s the big challenge, but in terms of where everything’s heading, it’s definitely in the right direction.”

McIlroy and Cowen on the range before the 2021 Masters

We’ve heard players like Brooks Koepka, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey mention in recent times that they’ve been able to adopt this sort of devil-may-care attitude, and it’s an outlook McIlroy certainly appeared to have when he seamlessly adjusted to life on tour.

It was one of the reasons he was able to win four majors in fairly quick succession and ascend to the top of the world rankings – that and a shed load of talent. Many even tipped him to take up the mantle from Tiger Woods as the game’s next true superstar. 

Now ranked 11th, the Northern Irishman wants to recapture his youthful exuberance of yesteryear, and use it to address his recent and stark first-round major struggles.

And how does he plan to do that? “I guess by being indifferent,” McIlroy said. “Not by not caring, but by not putting myself under pressure that I have to care, I guess is the right way to do it.

“If I went out and played this golf course any other week, you play free, and it’s just the same thing. As I said, you just have to be able to swing with that freedom, and that’s sort of what I’m trying to get back to. 

“There’s no surprise that if I do have, say, not a great first day that I’m able to play well the rest of the tournament because that does free you up. It’s like, ‘okay, well, the bad one’s out of the way, and now I can just sort of freewheel’. 

“It’s just a matter of freewheeling from the Thursday and not the Friday.”

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At last month’s PGA Championship, the Northern Irishman endured a torrid start as his opening drive sailed into the water on Kiawah’s par-4 10th, and although he salvaged a bogey, signing for a three-over-par 75 on Thursday ultimately proved too great a mountain to climb.

McIlroy’s opening shot at last month’s PGA Championship found the water

What made it all the more difficult was that McIlroy, arguably one of the game’s greatest ever drivers of the ball, misfired badly on the par-5s, playing them in two-over for the week.

So could a new driver set-up be another key piece in solving the major puzzle and lifting this title for the second time, 10 years on from his devastating eight-shot Congressional masterclass?

“At Kiawah, I felt like I went into the week playing pretty well,” he added. “I struggled on the left-to-right winds there. So even from the first tee shot on Thursday, hitting it into the water on 10. 

“Since then, I’ve changed my driver set-up a little bit, and I feel a lot more comfortable with that. If I’d have played the par-5s the same way that Phil played them at Kiawah, I’d have won the golf tournament. I just played the par-5s so badly. 

“But every time you play a tournament, you learn something, and you try to put that into practice the next week. I won a tournament four or five weeks ago, so it’s there. 

“Probably walking off Muirfield Village a couple Sundays ago, I said to Harry that I felt like I played better at Memorial than I did at Quail Hollow. I finished 18th at Memorial and I won Quail Hollow. It’s golf at the end of the day and sometimes it’s just unpredictable. 

“I’m feeling good about where my game is. As I said at the very start, it’s about going out there and playing as free as I can and having that mentality that I had as a 22-year-old and just trying to get into that mindset.”

McIlroy gets his title quest underway tomorrow alongside fellow US Open winners Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. The trio will tee off on the 1st hole at 1.36pm local time (9.36pm BST).