HOYLAKE, England: Rory McIlroy is the bookmakers' favourite to win this week's British Open at Hoylake and the in-form Northern Irishman may never get a better chance to secure the fifth major title that has eluded him for so long.
McIlroy appeared to have the golfing world at his feet when he won the 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool to secure his third major crown at the age of 25 and he claimed a fourth weeks later at the US PGA Championship.
Nine years on he has not added to that tally, but the omens are good, despite painful memories of last year's Open at St Andrews when he was tied for the lead going into the last round but finished third behind champion Cameron Smith after the Australian shot a superb closing 64 to McIlroy's 70.
Victory at the Scottish Open on Sunday, however, continued a consistent year in which McIlroy has recorded eight top-10 finishes.
He was second at last month's US Open and the world number two is glad to be back at Hoylake.
"It feels like such a long time ago," McIlroy said. "You're trying to rekindle the memories as I was driving from the airport last night and getting onto the Wirral.
"I haven't been here since 2014, so trying to get those memories back again and trying to refamiliarise myself with the range and the club, the first tee and everything. It's nice to come back anywhere you've had success, it's always a nice feeling."
McIlroy landed the Scottish Open crown with a birdie-birdie finish completed with a majestic two-iron to the last and he will need that creative shot-making to triumph at Hoylake.
"I think regardless of whether I won or not, I would have come in here confident with the way I've played over the last sort of month and a half," he told reporters on Tuesday.
"My game feels like it's in good shape, but I think seeing the way I played last week and being able to control my ball in pretty difficult conditions, and I feel good about that coming into this week."
McIlroy is very happy with the links course.
"It's in superb condition," he said. "It's very, very well bunkered and I think the biggest challenge of this golf course is avoiding those pot bunkers off the tee.
"It's a very strategic golf course, which I like. You really have to think your way around it."
World number one Scottie Scheffler will lead the challengers along with third-ranked Jon Rahm and defending champion Smith while Tommy Fleetwood could be the best hope of a first English Open champion since 1992.
Fleetwood, tied fourth at St Andrews 12 months ago, finished tied sixth at the Scottish Open and back near where he was born the 32-year-old world number 21 would be a popular winner of his first major crown.
American Rickie Fowler, still bidding for his first major at the age of 34, is also in good form along with Norway's world number five Viktor Hovland and resurgent American Jordan Spieth, the 2017 Open champion who is back to 11th in the rankings after a few years in the doldrums. — Reuters