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Rory McIlroy looking forward to U.S. Open at Shinnecock

He calls the Southampton course one of his favorites.

Rory McIlroy putts during practice rounds prior to

Rory McIlroy putts during practice rounds prior to The Players Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Wednesday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Rory McIlroy said again Wednesday what he always has believed about the infamous, treacherous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass with its island green: “You put a bunch of grass around that hole and it’s the easiest par-3 in the world.”

It is another way of saying that context means everything. Such as, a 74 at Augusta National would not be so bad if it weren’t on Sunday during the Masters when you’re in the final group. Fact is, that very result was devastating for McIlroy, who needs only a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam. Last month, he thought he was in great position to get it.

After he fell short, tying for fifth, six strokes behind champion Patrick Reed, he had a rough week. He binge-watched TV and read psychology books. He snapped out of it long before he showed up for the Wells Fargo Championship last week, but even there he had a tough go. McIlroy said the Masters is the No. 1 tournament, the one that tour golfers most want to win, and found himself neck deep in backlash.

Although he was merely saying what most golfers feel, he felt it necessary to walk back the statement and say how much he appreciates the U.S. and British Opens, both of which he has won.

All of that is behind him now that he is here for The Players, a big event marked by the drama of golfers trying to avoid debacles on the water-surrounded 17th green. But it is clear that his next big shot at wiping out the aftertaste from Augusta will come in the next major, next month at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton.

“It’s a great golf course, one of my favorites in the United States, if not the world,” he said Wednesday, adding that he is focused more on four events between now and then. “But I think if my game is in good shape, it should be able to handle any golf course, even if it is a U.S. Open setup.”

He will be in one of the creative featured groups that the PGA Tour has set up this week for its flagship tournament. He will play with fellow young stars Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth — a sort of generational counterpoint to the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson group that includes Rickie Fowler.

McIlroy has proven he can outshine anyone when he is on his game, which eluded him on the second Sunday in April. “As soon as the Masters went and I had a week to reflect and everything, it was all positive,” he said. “I’ve got so many opportunities, I’m playing well. There’s a lot of golf left to play.”

There are three majors left, starting on Long Island. McIlroy was too young for the 2004 Open at Shinnecock, but went out of his way to play two rounds there in the past few years. Local scuttlebutt said he once caught a favorable wind and drove the green on the par-4 first hole. The whole layout seems to be a good context for him.

“I don’t think they need to do much with it. You don’t need to trick it up, you don’t need to try and make it too tough,” he said. “If they leave it as is, they will get a good winner.”

Tiger in British Open

Tiger Woods confirmed his entry for the 147th British Open from July 19-22 at Carnoustie, Scotland, tournament organizers announced. Woods, 42, has won golf’s oldest major three times but has not competed in it since 2015 because of injury. — Reuters

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