Rory McIlroy could have been at Wembley on Wednesday night – "with my Danish top on," the Northern Irishman joked – but instead he is glad to be in North Berwick desperately trying to put his game, and most notably his driving, in shape for next week's Open Championship.
McIlroy, 32, was had been due to skip this Scottish Open, but when the Covid-19 travel restrictions meant his wife Erica and baby daughter Poppy had to remain in the United States, he delighted the country, the European Tour and sponsors with an unexpected late entry.
And after his tie for 59th at last week's Irish Open, McIlroy's form plainly needs another outing before the challenge awaiting 450 miles south at Royal St George's.
"I was pretty rusty last week at Mount Juliet," he said. "I didn't really practise the week after the US Open [where he finished seventh] and it showed in my game. So it's been nice to link back up with Pete [Cowen, his coach] and work on some stuff these last couple of days."
It is obvious what the pair have been concentrating on. McIlroy unleashed the driver on 11 occasions in Sunday's 74 in Co Kilkenny, and missed the fairway each time. McIlroy is one of the game's great drivers, and not just of this era, but has lost his confidence off the tee.
It is his challenge over the next four days to return this feared weapon to full working order. "You can get away with it with the shorter clubs, but once you get a longer club in your hand, that's where some of the bad habits start to creep in," McIlroy said. "That's an area we've focused on the last few days and I definitely drove the ball better yesterday and then again today, so that's encouraging."
McIlroy linked up with Cowen – the Yorkshireman who also coaches the likes of Brooks Koepka – only three months ago after a torrid spell and despite winning at Quail Hollow in May, the knee-jerk brigade have already started to shine a spotlight on the relationship. To Cowen it is straightforward.
"Rory's driving has had this two-way miss going on for a good while and when people are saying, 'What has Cowen done to his beautiful draw?', they must realise that the modern equipment will not let him do his old slinging right-to-lefter and it was him trying to do it that was forcing him all over the place," Cowen told The Daily Telegraph. "So we are looking to be more neutral and if that creates a slight controllable fade then so be it. It's a cliche, but it really is all a process."
Where are they in this process? "Pete would probably tell you that I'm doing s—-," McIlroy said with a grin. "But that's the great thing about Pete, he doesn't sugar coat it. He'll tell me when it's not great so that when he does give me a compliment, I know it's real."
A win in this $7 million event would certainly warrant praise. Five of the world's top 10 are in attendance, with McIlroy accompanying world No 1 Jon Rahm and No 3 Justin Thomas in Thursday's first round.
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