McIlroy targets Open double
Sandwich - Rory McIlroy will try to emulate Tiger Woods at Royal St George's here this week by winning the British Open four weeks after winning the US Open.
Woods was the last to achieve that rare feat in 2000 when he staggered the golf world by winning the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes and then taking the British equivalent by eight strokes at St Andrews.
The American was 24 when he achieved that feat, two years older than McIlroy who lifted the first half of the double by demolishing the field to win the US Open by eight shots at Congressional Country Club outside Washington.
Sadly, Woods will not be on hand to challenge golf's new superstar as the fallen idol continues to battle the serious leg injuries that have cast doubts on the rest of the 35-year-old's career.
And with Phil Mickelson rarely a serious contender on links courses, the US threat looks distinctly threadbare with the world's top three players - Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer of Germany - all joining McIlroy atop the betting charts.
The Ulsterman took three weeks off after Congressional, but played two practice rounds at Royal St George's last week before heading home again and only returning on Tuesday.
Asked if the pressure and expectations on his shoulders would be all the greater for having won his first Major at the US Open so handsomely. McIlroy replied: "It's nice to get that first one out of the way and focus on getting more."
"It has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders."
The same cannot be said about Donald and Westwood, the two top ranking players in the world, both of whom are seeking their first Major titles.
Donald, who won the Scottish Open last week for his third title of the year, is aiming to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and the first British winner since Scotland's Paul Lawrie in 1999.
Despite a miserable Open record with just one top 10 finish in 10 attempts, he believes that his game is primed to smash his duck in the Majors.
"This is the best I've played," he said of his current purple patch.
"I had a solid year in 2006, won over in the US and ranked up a bunch of Top 10s, but this is the most consistent I've been, I think, throughout my whole game.
"Not just around the greens but tee to green it's getting more and more solid, and I think that's been a key to me playing well and notching up some victories."
Westwood has the best record in the Majors of any player over the last three years including a third place in the 2009 Open at Turnberry, where he missed a putt at the last to get into a playoff with eventual winner Stewart Cink and Tom Watson, and a runner-up slot last year seven strokes adrift of Louis Oosthuizen.
"Hopefully it's a mathematical progression, third, second, obviously I'm hoping for a first," he said.
For their Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who failed to qualify this year after a run of 21 straight appearances, a European 1-2-3 is on the cards.
"It's going to be interesting, but when you look at Luke's game, Lee's game and of course Rory's game I can easily see them finishing first, second and third.
"But that could be in any order - we'll just have to wait and see."
Mickelson has said he will try and exorcise his dismal run of past failures in the British Open this week as it returns to the most southerly of it's nine venues.
But asked how his form had been in a wind-buffeted practice round on Tuesday, the four-time Major winner replied candidly: "I played terrible ... but I'm having a lot of fun here."
Still Mickelson or the rest of the US brigade only have to cast their minds back to 2003 - the last time the British Open was held in Sandwich.
On that occasion Ben Curtis emerged from anonymity to snatch the Auld Claret Jug from under the nose of Denmark's Thomas Bjorn who squandered a three-stroke lead with four to play.