Philadelphia, PA – With the U.S. Open about a month and a half away, defending champion Rory McIlroy is in an interesting spot when it comes to expectations and pressure.
He won the tournament last year at Congressional Country Club to earn his first major victory and washed out the bad taste of his 2011 Masters collapse, a title that helped him become one of the game's elite. Since then, he has earned two more titles and enjoyed a brief stint as the No. 1 player in the world. The success has bred confidence.
On the other hand, because of all that success, more is expected of the Northern Irishman.
During a press conference Monday, McIlroy recognized both sides of that position.
He admitted that he perhaps did not manage those expectations very well during this year's Masters, where he finished in a tie for 40th. He went into Augusta as one of the favorites, having finished in the top five in every prior event he played this year, and struggled mightily during the weekend to fall out of contention.
But McIlroy seems to be relishing the chance to defend his U.S. Open title in mid-June, and will head to Olympic Club in San Francisco without much of a mental burden.
"If anything, [the 2011 win] gives me more confidence in myself that I can win on the biggest stage in golf," he said. "Knowing that I've done it before gives me confidence that I'll be able to do it again."
McIlroy earned that 2011 victory in authoritative fashion. He wasn't far removed from his infamous performance at that year's Masters, when he carried a four-shot lead into Sunday before carding an 80 and tying for 15th. But he handled the pressure and won by eight shots at the U.S. Open.
This year, however, he said he doesn't feel the same kind of pressure.
"I feel like going into this year I don't really have anything to prove," McIlroy said. "I want to do well. I feel like I'm coming back to defend my title as a more established player, I'm coming back as a major champion."
McIlroy has not played competitive golf since this year's Masters, after which he took several weeks off in Europe. He returned to the United States last week to do some fitness work, and played a practice round Monday in advance of this weekend's Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina.
The break allowed McIlroy to work on the parts of his game that failed him at Augusta, and he said he feels more comfortable with how he's playing at the moment.
McIlroy said he expects ball control to lead to success at the U.S. Open, which he predicted will be a fast course. He said he will go to Olympic Club the week before to familiarize himself with it.
But when he goes there, he'll go with excitement. The U.S. Open is a month and a half away, but it's not looming.
"The thing about coming back this year to San Francisco," McIlroy said, "is I'm just excited to come back as the defending champion and really looking forward to that."