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With major drought looming, Rory McIlroy hoping to get faster start at this U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy practices before the U.S. Open Championship

Rory McIlroy practices before the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — There was a time when Rory McIlroy fit the bill as the "next Tiger Woods." He was a long-hitting prodigy from Northern Ireland who won four of the first 20 major championships he played, including his first major at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, where he was a record 16 under par.

But even though McIlroy was player of the year in 2019 when his victories included a Players Championship, he lost the No. 1 world ranking earlier this year, and his play his been mediocre since the PGA restart in June. He arrives at Winged Foot Golf Club for the 120th U.S. Open that begins Thursday mired in a 0-for-20 drought in major championships.

McIlroy tied for ninth last year at Pebble Beach, but in the eight Opens since Congressional, he has missed the cut four times. "If you’ve looked at my major championship performances over the last few years, I’ve just gotten off to slow starts," McIlroy said. "Shooting a bad score on the first day and putting yourself under even more pressure to just make it to the weekend, and then [you] try to play catch-up. When I start tournaments well, I seem to stay up there."

Some theorize McIlroy simply wanted a more normal life and sought to avoid the demands of superstardom. Recently, he and wife Erica welcomed the birth of their first child, a daughter named Poppy. McIlroy said he once brought problems home from the office, but he expects fatherhood to improve his outlook.

"It makes the hard days a little easier to get over," McIlroy said. "You’re a little more relaxed. This is a major championship, and I’ve grown up my whole life dreaming of winning these tournaments. That’s not going to change, but if it doesn’t quite happen, I can live with that and be very happy and leave what’s happened at the golf course. Having a little bit more perspective definitely helps."

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