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Less talk, more golf for McIlroy ahead of Open Championship

Rory McIlroy Rory McIlroy - The Canadian Press

Rory McIlroy hasn’t been inside a press room, pre-tournament, since he visited the RBC Canadian Open back in June. It’s not that he hasn’t been asked; rather, he has politely declined.

This week at the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, he once again elected to take a pass at sitting down with the press corps where he knew that the majority of the questions wouldn’t be about his swing, the course, or the Claret Jug, but on the state of the game and the current situation between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

In Canada, where news of the deal broke, the first 15 of 17 questions asked to McIlroy were about the proposed deal; only one was about his chances of winning a third consecutive Canadian title. McIlroy looked as if he was being grilled at a Senate hearing rather than a golf tournament.

We don’t know the exact reasons why he has avoided the lovely confines of the press room, but he is certainly within his rights to stay away. It should be pointed out that he has chatted with a number of media members this week, just not a pack of them.

More than likely, answering questions about whether he trusts Jay Monahan, if LIV players should get world ranking points, or if Greg Norman should be fired (the latter being rhetorical for him, of course) is a weight he’d prefer not to carry to the first tee on Thursday. He can make better use of that time trimming his toenails.

No one can begrudge McIlroy’s position. He’s been the voice of the PGA Tour and its players for more than a year now, dutifully responding week after week, on the state of the game and his dislike of LIV. His fellow golfers should thank him for being vocal and for standing up for their tour. When he talks, people listen.

His position on the speaker’s box came willingly. As a high-profile golfer, he felt the need to stand up and support his beliefs. The about-face from the executives at the PGA Tour seemed to take the wind from his sails, not surprisingly. McIlroy has begrudgingly accepted what is coming but that doesn’t mean he has to be carrying the flag at the front of the parade anymore, especially not after being submarined with the latest announcement.

Instead, he’ll channel his energy into his game, and hopefully this week that will mean running through the tape to get his long sought-after fifth major title.

His play last week was a bright spot in what has been a strong but frustrating season, especially on Sunday. While some will point to the shot into the 17th green to set up a birdie or the two-iron on the 18th for another, the clutch putts that followed may be the most important part of those performances.

McIlroy has been missing those must-make putts in majors for some time. Not only is it disappointing, but it’s also frustrating beyond belief.

Last month at the U.S. Open he played the final 17 holes in one-over. That stretch included an ugly bogey at the par-5 14th.

Last year at this same Open Championship, he hit all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday but two-putted every one of them. Cam Smith put on a performance on the greens, needing just 29 putts, a number of them from long distance. He ended up with the Claret Jug while McIlroy cried on his wife’s shoulder, an understandable emotional release after yet another close call.

This week presents another chance for McIlroy, and he will be the people’s choice. He is easily the most popular golfer since Tiger Woods. While his game continues to marvel with his soaring tee shots and daring strategy, it’s the honesty and deep beliefs he has expressed in response to almost everything that draws fans to him.

Whether it be the PGA Tour-LIV situation or his failure to once again get into the winners’ circle at a major, he opens his heart. In an age of athletes obfuscating and boasting, he is a straight-talker, often taking a few moments to properly prepare his response.

As for a return visit to the press room? McIlroy would love that to be late on Sunday, holding the Claret Jug.