Golf

Rory McIlroy returns to Hoylake looking to end nine-year major drought at Open

Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his 2014 Open triumph seeking to end a long drought in the majors (David Davies/PA)
Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his 2014 Open triumph seeking to end a long drought in the majors (David Davies/PA) Rory McIlroy returns to the scene of his 2014 Open triumph seeking to end a long drought in the majors (David Davies/PA)

Eight years and 11 months. 3,266 days. 78,384 hours.

Whichever way you look at it, by the time the 151st Open Championship gets under way the length of time since Rory McIlroy’s last major victory is truly remarkable.

Since McIlroy followed his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool in 2014 by winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in his next two starts, 34 majors have been staged and the 34-year-old Northern Irishman has won none of them.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy with the Claret Jug in a press conference after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool (David Davies/PA)

Brooks Koepka has racked up all five of his victories in that spell, Jordan Spieth three, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Dustin Johnson two each, while 18 different players have tasted victory once, including a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson and an injury-ravaged Tiger Woods.

McIlroy has had to settle for commendable consistency, recording 19 top-10s and finishing no worse than eighth in all four majors in 2022, yet genuine chances to win on the back nine on Sunday have been relatively scarce.

In the 2018 Masters – the only major he has not won – McIlroy began the day three behind leader Patrick Reed but had a short eagle putt on the par-five second to draw level with the American. He missed, bogeyed the third to Reed’s birdie and that was effectively that.

At the 2022 US PGA, McIlroy roared into contention with four straight birdies early in the final round and was one shot off the eventual score required for a play-off, only to fade to eighth.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy Rory McIlroy (right) tees off the 11th as Norway’s Viktor Hovland looks on during day four of The 150th Open at St Andrews (Jane Barlow/PA)

It was a different story two months later as McIlroy shared the lead with Viktor Hovland heading into the final round of the Open at St Andrews, four shots clear of Cameron Smith and Cameron Young.

Two ahead at the turn, McIlroy made his second birdie of the day on the 10th but was overhauled by a surging Smith, the Australian making five birdies in a row to start the back nine and another on the last to complete a stunning 64.

Last month’s US Open offered McIlroy another great chance to end his drought as he moved into a share of the lead with a birdie on the first hole of the final round at Los Angeles Country Club.

However, that proved to be his only one of a frustrating day and it was no surprise that he was overheard muttering “St Andrews all over again” to his manager after a level-par 70 which left him one shot behind winner Wyndham Clark.

Of course “Hoylake all over again” would be a very welcome sense of deja vu for McIlroy following his 2014 triumph, when he led from start to finish and held off a charging Sergio Garcia on the final day to lift the Claret Jug.

It made McIlroy the first European player to win three different majors since the Masters was founded in 1934 and gave him the third leg of a career grand slam completed by just five players in the history of the game.

When another major title followed a month later it was almost inconceivable that McIlroy would be stuck on the same tally nine years later, but there are precedents for ending even lengthier droughts.

Julius Boros and Hale Irwin both won the US Open 11 years apart, while Ben Crenshaw’s Masters victories in 1984 and 1995 came in just six days shy of that mark.

Tiger Woods memorably won the 2019 Masters almost 11 years on from his 2008 US Open win, with Lee Trevino and Ernie Els also cracking the 10-year barrier.

A keen student of the game, chances are McIlroy will be well aware of such facts. Whether he can do anything about adding his name to the list remains to be seen.