McIlroy hopes regained 'freedom' leads to fast start at U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy is playing with a “freedom” he last felt in 2016 as he eyes a fast start to the U.S. Open, which begins on Thursday.

The four-time major champion heads to Pebble Beach on the back of a seven-stroke win at the Canadian Open, where he carded a spectacular nine-under 61 in the final round.

That has given the world number three a huge confidence boost and McIlroy said the last time he felt so free in his swing was more than two years ago.

“I think confidence is important for everyone. I don’t think you can play to the best of your ability if you don’t have confidence and belief in yourself,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Whether that’s more important for me than other people… maybe. But I think the last time I felt this free or I guess felt the way I felt last week probably has to go back to maybe the run at the [FedEx Cup] play-offs in ’16. I felt really good.

“And then going into the Ryder Cup in ’16 at Hazeltine, I felt like that was a real good stretch of golf that I played. So, it’s probably been a couple of years – two, two and a half years.”

The win at the Canadian Open was McIlroy’s second of the year, but his last major success came in 2014.

McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open winner, hopes he can start well at Pebble Beach on Thursday, saying it was the key to possible success.

Asked how a first major win since 2014 would feel, the Northern Irishman said: “Liberating, satisfying, I mean, there’s a lot of different words you could use to describe what it would feel like.

“At the champions reunion last night, which was a lot of fun, I had a chat with Johnny Miller, and Johnny said, ‘You look at the history of major championships, that first round is so important’. I said, ‘I know’.

“My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year just sort of put me a little bit behind the eight ball. And it’s hard to catch up. Especially major championships are played on the toughest courses, and you start to chase on those really tough courses, it’s hard to do that.

“I think getting back to winning, the majors that I’ve won, I’ve started every single one of them really well, runs in sort of the mid-60s, and I think that’s sort of what’s held me back a little bit. If I can take that freedom that I played with on Saturday and Sunday last week and put that into tomorrow and play with that sort of freedom and get off to a good start, I’ll hopefully be right in the tournament from the get-go and stay there.”