Rory McIlroy back in hunt for Claret Jug as Open returns to Troon
12 months ago McIlroy was missing from the field in St Andrews after suffering an ankle injury while playing football with friends.
Troon: The British Open returns to Royal Troon on Scotland`s west coast this week with Rory McIlroy back in the field having been unable to defend the Claret Jug a year ago due to injury.
The Northern Irishman, who leads a host of the sport`s biggest names to have withdrawn in controversial circumstances from next month`s Rio Olympics, is bidding to win his fifth major and second Open after his victory at Hoylake, near Liverpool, in 2014.
Twelve months ago McIlroy was missing from the field in St Andrews after suffering an ankle injury while playing a game of football with friends.
He missed the cut at last month`s US Open but showed promise when he finished third at the recent French Open before making his way to Scotland to prepare for the unique challenges of links golf.
"It was really disappointing, especially at St. Andrews last year, not to be able to defend," McIlroy said last week.
"The last time I played The Open I won it, so good memories, and hopefully I can play similar to the way I did in Liverpool and give myself a chance."
While Tiger Woods seems to have become yesterday`s man and will not feature, McIlroy comes to Troon as part of what could now be termed golf`s `big four`.
Alongside him at the summit of the sport are Australia`s Jason Day and American duo Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, the latter the winner of his first major at the US Open at Oakmont last month.
Between them, that quartet has won six of the last eight majors, but the challenges posed by Royal Troon, where cool and damp conditions are forecast, could well leave the field wide open.
American Zach Johnson emerged to win his second major in a play-off at St Andrews a year ago, when the wind and rain forced the finish to be held over until the Monday.
The last six winners at Troon have all been Americans, including Arnold Palmer in 1962, Tom Watson in 1982 and the unheralded Todd Hamilton, the most recent champion there in 2004.
"I haven`t been back for anything in 12 years, so I`m really looking forward to getting over there and seeing any changes they`ve made, if they`ve made any," Hamilton, now 50, recently told golf.com.
"I enjoy the challenge of links golf, but I wouldn`t want to do it every day."Hamilton`s words hint at one of the big tests facing the field this week -- to many Troon is something of an unknown.
"I don`t really know much about it," admitted McIlroy, who was just 15 when the Open last came to Troon.
He was planning to visit the course to "sort of figure it out and see what I need to do there."
McIlroy`s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell has also spent time practicing at the course in an attempt to get to grips with its many challenges.
Among those will be the 11th, a 482-yard par four with the Glasgow to Ayr railway line running down one side of it, and the infamous eighth.
Known as the Postage Stamp, at 123 yards it is the shortest hole currently on the Open rota and it is here where the German amateur Herman Tissies took 15 way back in 1950.
"There`s going to be carnage," McDowell told the BBC of the hole. "If the wind blows in the direction I was playing it in last week you`re going to have all kinds of numbers."
In such potentially tough conditions, and with the event coming in the midst of a packed schedule ahead of the Olympics, anything is possible.
McIlroy, Day, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and McDowell are among the leading names to have turned their back on Rio because of the Zika virus but, because of the Games, the PGA Championship has been brought forward to the last weekend in July.
The Ryder Cup at Hazeltine is creeping ever closer, and in such a climate what price a new major champion in the hunt for the £1.175 million ($1.5m) winner`s cheque?
If that is to be the case, then habitual contenders such as Spain`s Sergio Garcia, who came tied fifth at the US Open, and Sweden`s Henrik Stenson will hope to finally step forward.
Another Swede, Alex Noren, heads to Royal Troon in the best possible form after capturing the Scottish Open in Inverness on Sunday.