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Rory McIlroy on a practice round at Royal St George's
Rory McIlroy on a practice round at Royal St George's
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AS Rory McIlroy walked out onto the first tee this morning, he will have been struck by the rows of posters lining the entrance to the course in memory of the late Seve Ballesteros.

By Sunday evening, the Northern Irishman could pay his own fitting tribute by becoming the first 22-year-old since Ballesteros to win the Open Championship.

The hype surrounding McIlroy has been enormous since his US Open triumph last month, especially with the injured Tiger Woods not on the scene to divert some of the attention.

Whether he can cope with the “madness” expected this week by his manager remains to be seen, but for now he is certainly saying all the right things.

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“First and foremost, I’m very happy to be back at an Open,” McIlroy said. “It’s obviously a tournament that we look forward to every year.

“The first 10 days after winning the US Open it was a bit hectic trying to see everyone and going here, there and everywhere, but the last 10 days has been good. I’ve got back into my routine, been practising a lot.

“It was nice to relax and sort of take it all in after the US Open, but I knew that the time for reflection wasn’t really at this point of the season, it’s at the end. I’ve got to forget about what happened three weeks ago and just come in here and try to win another golf tournament.”

Spain’s Sergio Garcia is not a fan of the layout of Royal St George’s but he will not allow that to spoil what he hopes will be his happiest Open for four years.

Since losing in a play-off to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie in 2007 the Ryder Cup star’s record at the world’s oldest major has reflected his general disappointing form.

Last year’s joint 14th finish was a marked improvement on his two previous efforts of 51st and 38th at Birkdale and Turnberry.

On his only other appearance at the Sandwich links in 2003 he finished tied for 10th - in the middle of a run of five top-10s in six years - but there are not too many fond memories.

“It’s not my favourite, I’m not going to lie to you. Without a doubt there are better courses than this one,” said the 31-year-old.