Rory McIlroy will begin his quest for the British Open title in the company of American Rickie Fowler and South African legend Ernie Els at Sandwich on Thursday.
McIlroy will start as favorite at the Royal St. George’s club as the 22-year-old plays a competitive round for the first time since his U.S. Open triumph at Congressional.
A year ago McIlroy opened his British Open bid with a 63 at St. Andrew’s and went on to finish third in that event.
McIlroy hasn’t played since his breakthrough win three weeks ago, but has refuted criticism of his preparations for Sandwich from Colin Montgomerie amongst others.
“Some people may have wondered why I chose to go from one major straight to another without anything in between and the answer is simple,” stated McIlroy.
“Because of what happened at Congressional and the way it became such a big deal, I wanted to get everything out of the way and sorted so that when I did start playing again I could just concentrate on golf.
“If I had gone to the French Open, I just would not have been able to practice or prepare properly. Every time I play I want to go out there with a chance to win and that wouldn’t have happened.
“There were so many commitments and so much media to do that I would have not been able to give my best, so I decided to wait until I was absolutely ready.
“I didn’t touch a club for 10 days after the U.S. Open, and then after just hitting balls on the range at home it did feel good when I finally got out on the course again.”
McIlroy liked what he saw at the 2011 British Open venue. He added, “The practice was great because we had one calm day and one when the wind got up so I got a great feel of what we can expect.
“It wasn’t my first visit because I remember playing the 2005 home internationals there and also the British Amateur the following year. And, more important, I like the course.
“Some people think it’s a bit quirky in places, but I believe it’s a good test of golf.”
McIlroy also had some words of comfort for the absent Tiger Woods ahead of his British Open test.
“Tiger Woods won’t have a chance this year because unfortunately he has not recovered from his injuries,” added McIlroy.
“It’s always a disappointment when Tiger isn’t in the field because people want to see him play and he brings so much to the game.
“On the other hand, when he isn’t there it increases my and everybody else’s chances, but I’d certainly prefer him to be there.”
Mick McCarthy has blasted the players who skipped Ireland’s end of season games -- and told the FAI that he’s in no rush to return to international management.
The former Irish boss has revealed his disgust at the absence of the likes of Darron Gibson, James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Anthony Stokes for the Euro tie in Macedonia and three friendlies last month.
Current Ireland chief Giovanni Trapattoni may leave the quartet out later this week when he names his squad for the August friendly against Croatia.
Wolves’ manager McCarthy is in no doubt what he thinks of any player who misses the chance to play for Ireland.
“I have a word for players who don’t turn up to play for their national team but you can’t print it,” said McCarthy as his team departed their pre-season training camp at Carton House.
“I know what happened at the end of last season with Ireland and the players involved are bang out of order. It is just wrong.
“I am not bothered about what their reason is. I’m not having it. When I won my first cap in 1984 I skipped my brother John’s wedding.
“Eoin Hand asked me could I play and I said of course I could -- all I had to do was tell my brother first. My mind wasn’t on anything other than turning up to play for Ireland.
“I can’t understand any other attitude from any player when it comes to playing for Ireland.”
McCarthy, manager when the Irish team last qualified for a major finals at the 2002 World Cup, has been mentioned as a potential successor to Trapattoni, anxious to stay on after the Euro finals next year.
The FAI may even discuss contract arrangements with the Italian when he arrives in Clare for this week’s annual meeting, but McCarthy is in no rush to succeed him.
“I would love an international job again at some stage because I loved my time with Ireland, absolutely loved it. But I prefer day to day management right now,” said the 52-year-old McCarthy.
“If the Ireland job was right in the future, then I would consider it. But not now.”
Celtic boss Neil Lennon is looking to add some experience to his squad ahead of the new season as he prepares to return to Scotland from the club’s Australian tour.
Lennon has already signed teenage Welsh full back Adam Matthews, 20-year-old Kenya international Victor Wanyama and defender Kelvin Wilson, 25.
Now the Parkhead supremo wants to adds some experienced players to his squad ahead of the league campaign which starts in a fortnight.
Lennon said, “We have to be a little bit more imaginative in where we go and exploit different markets. Last season, we brought in Beram Kayal, Emilio Izaguirre and Gary Hooper, players who were under the radar who we felt would enhance us as a team, and have done.
“And we have done the same this season. We have brought in Victor Wanyama and we feel we have found a really good player as well.
“But we don’t always want to go down the youth route. We are looking to bring maybe one or two experienced players as well into the squad.
“But I am pretty happy with the squad at the minute. It needs tinkering a little bit but I would be happy to get just one or two more in.”
Celtic won the second game of their Aussie tour on Saturday with a 2-0 win over a Perth Glory side which included former Celtic star and Irish midfielder Liam Miller.
Gary Hooper and Charlie Mulgrew got the goals for Celtic. Beram Kayal broke his nose in the Perth match but will be fit for the start of the Scottish season.
Meanwhile, Brentford have taken Celtic’s Northern Ireland winger Niall McGinn on a season-long loan.
St. Mirren have signed Dubliner Graham Carey from Celtic on a two-year contract.
Irish defender John O’Shea has signed for Sunderland, but fellow Manchester United exile Darron Gibson is unlikely to join him at the Stadium of Light.
O’Shea has signed a four-year deal with Niall Quinn’s team, but Gibson’s excessive wage demands have scuppered his move.
Waterford-born O’Shea was one of the longest serving players at United but is excited by the move.
“It was one of those things. I was there for 13 years and they were 13 fantastic years,” he said.
“But this is a nice new exciting chapter for me now and hopefully we can have good times with Sunderland like I had at Manchester United.”
Sligo Rovers are top of the Airtricity League Premier Division table thanks to their 2-0 win over Drogheda United on Saturday night.
Derry threw the title race wide open with a 1-0 win at home to Shamrock Rovers while St. Pat’s could only draw 2-2 with visitors Dundalk on Sunday, just days after their Europa League success against IBV of Iceland.
Bohs made it four wins on the trot with a 2-0 victory at home to troubled Galway United and Bray won 2-1 at UCD.
SHAMROCK Rovers midfielder Chris Turner has been banned for three games for his behavior towards Derry striker Eamon Zayed after the City player complained he was the victim of racist comments in their recent match. St. Pat’s were also punished by the FAI after Zayed complained that he was racially abused by fans in a recent game at Inchicore.
STEPHEN Ireland has vowed to rebuild his Aston Villa career under new manager Alex McLeish. “You have to start with a fresh new slate now. It didn’t go off with a bang like I wanted it to when I first signed here. I just want to be given the opportunity to play,” said Ireland.
FORMER Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham is to coach the Airtricity League in the forthcoming Dublin Super Cup when they will play Celtic and Manchester City.
SLIGO Rovers have received clearance from UEFA to play their forthcoming Europa League game at their Showgrounds home.
IRISH goalkeeper Shay Given looks certain to sign for Aston Villa by the end of the week.
The mystery of Irish and Celtic symbols (PHOTOS)