Forget living in the goldfish bowl of remorseless scrutiny. Rory McIlroy must feel like he is in one of those little petri dishes that boggle-eyed boffins remorselessly gawp at through a microscope under labor-atory conditions.

As seasons go, the 30-year-old’s 2019 campaign has been pretty impressive. In 13 events, he has had two wins and nine other top 10s. He has never been as consistent in his career.

The problem, of course, is that the weight of expectation McIlroy carries is broadly equivalent to the burden Atlas had to heave on his shoulders.

Without a major win since 2014, the probing, pondering and pontif-icating every time one of the big four events comes round intensifies and, while he is fully focused on this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, there is no escaping next week’s Open in his own backyard of Portrush.

While McIlroy, the world No.3, has reeled off a succession of high placings on the PGA Tour, Brooks Koepka, the man at the top of the world order, has saved his best for the majors. Amid the humdrum finishes of a 57th here and a 56th there on the regular circuit, Koepka’s record in the Masters, the PGA Championship and the US Open reads second, first, second. McIlroy’s sequence in comparison is 21st, eighth and ninth.


“No, I wouldn’t trade,” said the Northern Irishman when asked if he would swap his consistency for more big moments in the biggest events. “I look at Brooks and you see what he does in these majors and you think, ‘wow, if he produced this sort of stuff every week, it would be very tough to compete’. Why that is, I have no idea.

“But he obviously does put a lot of extra emphasis on the majors and it works for him. When I try to put extra emphasis on tournaments, it almost goes the other way for me. I need to relax and I need to just sort of let it go. That’s how I play my best golf.

“I look at what I’ve done this year and my results and my scoring average and stats and everything are right where they need to be. I honestly think this peaking for majors is a little bit of a myth. You’re trying to play well every week. Why would you turn up at tournaments if you didn’t want to try to compete and win?”

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With that in mind, McIlroy, who sidestepped last week’s Irish Open in favour of the Scottish showpiece, has arrived in East Lothian with considerable purpose.

“As much as these weeks set you up for the week after, I’m playing this event with two eyes firmly focused on the Scottish Open,” added McIlroy, who has won golfing titles in various nooks and crannies of the world but never in the game’s cradle of Scotland.

“First and foremost I want to play well here. I want to get myself into contention and have a chance to win. I think if I do that, that’s the best way to prepare for next week, to feel the heat of getting in there on a Sunday. I think it’s a little disrespectful when people come in and they are treating it [the Scottish Open] as a warm-up. I think most tournaments deserve to stand on their own two feet and have some stature, and the Scottish Open is one of those events.”

Next week’s bonanza, the first Open in Northern Ireland since 1951, is being eagerly anticipated. The globe-trotting McIlroy hadn’t been back to his own gate end for some eight months but a hit about at Portrush at the weekend felt as comfy as a pint in the town’s Harbour Bar.

“I went on Saturday not really knowing what to expect but I was surprised by how comfortable I felt,” said McIlroy, who famously shot a course record 61 at Portrush as a teenage amateur. “It felt like coming home. There was a quote somewhere that said, ‘familiarity leads to certainty’.

“If I can have that familiar feeling and that leads to certainty in my game then that’s a good thing.”

It was the great Ben Hogan who suggested that “as you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round”.

Ahead of an Open that will be the biggest of McIlroy’s career, he is trying to do just that.

“It might be 68 years until Portrush gets the Open [again], so enjoy it, smell the roses, see friends and family,” he said. “It’s going to be such a great experience for me. The more I can enjoy that and roll with it, then the better I think I can do.”