Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy will form part of a strong field this week in Kilkenny with fellow countrymen Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell all competing at their home event.
The world number 10, and Irish Open champion in 2016, enjoyed a share of the lead on the final day of the US Open earlier this month before his challenge faded on the back nine.
But McIlroy believes he is starting to see the benefits of the work he has put into revitalising his game as he prepares to make his first Irish Open appearance since 2018 as he prepares to compete this week at Mount Juliet before the Scottish Open and the Open Championship in consecutive weeks.
“Everything that I’ve been working on has started to bed in and the game feels good,” McIlroy said.
“I’m very encouraged by how I played all week [at the US Open], the 67 I shot on Saturday was one of my best ball-striking rounds in a long time.”
Both McDowell and McIlroy missed last year’s rescheduled competition at Galgorm, while the latter also opted out of the 2019 tournament at Lahinch.
“It’s felt like a long time, it has been a long time,” said McIlroy, who tees off on Thursday at 13:00 BST.
“Ballyliffin seems like a lifetime ago so I’m looking forward to this week.”
The County Down native, who won the Open Championship in 2014, has travelled alone from his home in Florida, with his wife and daughter staying in the United States due to travel complications caused by the pandemic.
He is now facing an extended spell on the road, with his debut Olympic appearance following The Open.
“Up until about a week ago they were going to come with me. The plan was to play here, take the week off afterwards and then play The Open but with how everything panned out with isolation and quarantine it wasn’t just fair to put them through that,” he said.
“This is going to be five of the next six weeks on the road without seeing them so I just made sure last week to spend as much time with them as possible, which meant I didn’t see my golf clubs very much.”
McIlroy is in one of the marquee groups for the opening two rounds, playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion John Catlin; while another which catches the eye features Claret Jug holder Shane Lowry alongside two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer and Jonathan Caldwell.
Other marquee groups also have strong home influences, and include Pádraig Harrington in a group with Thomas Detry and Andy Sullivan; and Graeme McDowell playing alongside Thomas Pieters and Richard Bland.
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