RORY McIlroy insists recent injury problems will not hamper his preparation for the 2017 Irish Open, which starts on Thursday, July 6.
The world number four is still feeling the effects of a rib complaint that has dogged him since January.
He was one of several notable players who missed the cut at the US Open last month, along with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.
But the Irishman told the press this week that his body was in good shape for a strong title defence on native soil.
“It’s definitely the best that I’ve felt all year,” McIlroy said.
— DDF Irish Open (@DDFIrishOpen) July 3, 2017
“I’m just learning to manage it – it’s one of these injuries, there’ll be remnants of it for six or 12 months – so it’s all about managing it and managing the load and the amount of golf balls that I hit.”
The four-time major winner joked that there were certain benefits to being forced off the practice range for extended periods of time.
“It gives me a bit more time to work on my putting,” he added.
“But I feel good. Swing feels good, I feel like I’m in a good place and I’m excited to get on a run of events now.”
Having missed the cut in three straight attempts prior, McIlroy ran down Russell Knox in a dramatic finish at the K Club last year to clinch his first Irish Open title.
More of the same this year, @McIlroyRory? 🎯🏆
— DDF Irish Open (@DDFIrishOpen) June 30, 2017
The 28-year-old from County Down is hoping to repeat that feat on the Strand course at Portstewart Golf Club, situated on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland.
“I’ve thought about that day a lot, especially coming up those last few holes,” McIlroy said.
“I was one behind Russell Knox on 16 and I hit those two shots into 16 and it was birdie to a bogey and all of a sudden I went from one behind to one ahead.
“Then with eagle on the last it was the perfect way to end what was pretty much a perfect week.
“Hopefully I’m able to emulate that this year.”
The Irish Open has enjoyed a new lease on life in recent years and is now part of the European Tour Rolex Series of elite events.
— Kevin Markham (@kevinmarkham) July 1, 2017
McIlroy, whose foundation hosts the tournament, believes the decision to return to Ireland’s traditional seaside links courses was an important one.
“I think it’s going to be the best Irish Open ever,” he said.
“One of the things I wanted to do with hosting the Irish Open is to get it on a links golf course, so for it to be on Portstewart, one of the best links courses we have in the country, with an unbelievable field, I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Rory the favourite despite stiff competition
McIlroy’s biggest challengers could come from his own group.
The (+650) favourite and his playing partners Hideki Matsuyama (+1000) and Jon Rahm (+1400) hold every place on the podium in the Irish Open outright betting at Bet365.com.
Sharing the fourth line at +1600 are Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood, the latter of whom comes in off a win at the French Open.
Thomas Pieters (+2500) and the +2800 pair of Rafa Cabrera Bello and former winner Shane Lowry round out the top contenders.
2017 Irish Open outright odds
+650 – Rory McIlroy
+1000 – Hideki Matsuyama
+1400 – Jon Rahm
+1600 – Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose
+2500 – Thomas Pieters
+2800 – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Shane Lowry
+3000 – Tyrell Hatton, Thorbjorn Olesen
+3300 – Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan
+4000 – Lee Westwood
+4500 – Peter Uihlein
+5000 – Paul Dunne, Joost Luiten, Graeme McDowell
+5500 – Ian Poulter
+6000 – Pablo Larrazabal
+6600 – George Coetzee, Dylan Fritelli, Padraig Harrington, Soren Kjeldsen
+7000 – Alexander Levy, Andrew Johnston
+7500 – Haotong Li, Kiradech Aphibarnrat
+8000 – Alexander Bjork, Jamie Donaldson
More quoted at Bet365.com
Rory McIlroy betting specials
There is absolutely no doubting that Rory is the man to beat.
The defending champ, the tournament host, on home soil – everything is in his favour.
Fitness is the major concern, but McIlroy seems genuinely confident that his ribs won’t cause any problems.
Back him to finish top five at the very least and take some promising form into the British Open at Royal Birkdale later this month.
Top Irish player – -138.89
Match bet vs. Matsuyama – -125
Top British Isles player – +300
First round leader – +1200
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