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Love at first sight

McIlroy gives Winged Foot venue thumbs up

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GAME FACE ON: Rory McIlroy practises before the US Open Championship golf tournament at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. AP Photo/John Minchillo

GAME FACE ON: Rory McIlroy practises before the US Open Championship golf tournament at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. AP Photo/John Minchillo

AP

GAME FACE ON: Rory McIlroy practises before the US Open Championship golf tournament at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Rory McIlroy declared it love at first sight, giving Winged Foot a massive thumbs-up as he bids to end his six-year Major drought in the US Open.

Just 15 months ago, the 2011 champion described his recent US Open record as "pathetic" and suggested there "could be a problem" for the USGA if they couldn't "redeem themselves" from the set-up mistakes that were made at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills.

He toned that down after finishing ninth at Pebble Beach last year and last night he was smitten by his first sight of the venue, made famous by the 1974 'Massacre at Winged Foot'.

"It's awesome," McIlroy declared before heading out for nine holes. "I've never been here before. This is the first time I've had a look at it. Played 18 holes yesterday and loved what I saw.

"It's hard, obviously, but I think it's very, very fair. I said to someone yesterday when I played Oakmont for the first time, my initial reaction was, this place is impossible. This course gives you a few more chances if you miss it."

He has no fears of another USGA bloodbath, adding: "Something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf."

Having become a father for the first time earlier this month, he reported that mother Erica and daughter Poppy were well, adding: "I actually changed the first two diapers, so I'm very proud of that. I've got my hands dirty; put it that way."

Winged Foot was also less daunting than expected - a fair test and not the beast that has been "hyped up".

"This is a wonderful golf course, and I think one of the best that I've played for a US Open," the Co Down man said.

"I thought I was going to have to hit driver, five-iron into every par-four and it's not quite like that. There's still places where precision beats power, and that's been the case here at US Opens in the past.

"But not as many drivers off tees as I thought there would be, which is good. You've got to put your ball into position, and then once you do that, that's a tough part, and then getting it on to the right levels of these greens, leaving it below the hole, giving yourself decent putts.

"I think this place tests every single aspect of your game, so I don't think I could single out the toughest thing that you need to do or the hardest thing you're going to have to do this week. It's all pretty tough."

Compared

Getting off to a good start is now key for the four-time Major winner who is 16-over par for his first rounds in his last eight Major starts, compared to 23-under par for rounds two, three and four.

"I probably just put a little too much pressure on myself going into tournaments," he said by way of explanation. "And from there, shooting a bad score on the first day and putting yourself under even more pressure from there to just make it to the weekend, and then to try to play catch-up. I think that's been the big thing.

"When I start tournaments well, I seem to stay up there. I started Pebble last year with a nice score and stayed up there for the most part. I didn't quite finish the week the way I wanted to.

"But that's been the big thing for me. If I can start and put a good solid round together on a Thursday, I'm usually right there."

Mallow amateur James Sugrue was thrilled to be handed a "cool" draw with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and English Ryder Cup legend Lee Westwood for the first two rounds at Winged Foot.

"Cool," the laid-back Corkman (23) said, remarking on his playing group. "Two legends of the game. Excited. Lee is probably one of the best tee-to-green golfers of our time and Bubba is just cool and it's always fun to watch him navigate around golf courses. I can't wait."