Monday, November 29, 1999

Pebble novice McIlroy sees an Open advantage in ignorance

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Rory McIlroy believes a level of ignorance could be bliss at this week's U.S. Open, even though course knowledge is generally accepted as a major advantage going into a tournament.Taking on Pebble Beach via a golf video game had been his only experience of the Open venue before this week but McIlroy spectacularly proved last month he can flourish in a foreign environment.The 21-year-old Briton clinched his first PGA Tour title at the Quail Hollow Championship, closing with a course record 10-under-par 62 to blow away a top-quality field including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson."I had never seen Quail Hollow before this year and I had a couple of practice rounds around there and did okay," world number 10 McIlroy told reporters at Pebble Beach on Wednesday."Sometimes it's not a bad thing not knowing a course that well because you don't have the memories of hitting bad shots, hitting it in the water here or hitting it in the rough there."So I'm fine. Basically all you're trying to do is get lines off tees and learn the greens. And the greens are quite small here so you've got to know, if you're going to miss it, what the good side is to miss it on."The mop-haired Northern Irishman, who tied for 10th in his U.S. Open debut last year at Bethpage Black, took great delight in playing Pebble Beach for the first time while preparing for Thursday's opening round."It's a spectacular golf course...but it's a lot easier on the Play Station," McIlroy said with a broad grin. "I've played it a lot on video games."I knew the look of the holes, but I never really knew how they played. I couldn't believe how short the (par-three, 109-yard) seventh was. It's just like a little chip almost."LEADING CONTENDERSOne of the game's most exciting prospects, McIlroy is among the leading Open contenders but he feels he may need two more years' experience before he is ready to win a major title."I don't know. I hope I'm not too far," he modestly replied when asked how close he was to landing one of the grand slam events. "I probably would be more comfortable answering that question if I had a few more wins under my belt."But I've got to be going into this tournament thinking that I can win, that I have a chance to win. I feel my game's in pretty good shape and that if I can get myself into position going into the weekend I should have a good chance."Maybe in a couple of years I'll hopefully be a bit more advanced in my career to say: 'Yeah, I think it's time that I'm ready to win a major.' But there's no rush right now."No European has won the U.S. Open since Britain's Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970 but McIlroy senses that could change this week because of the firm-running, links-course feel at Pebble Beach."This year there's a great chance that a European could win, especially the way the golf course is set up," he said. "If it continues to get as firm as it has been the last couple of days, it's playing sort of linksy out there."(Editing by John Mehaffey; To query or comment on this story email
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