McIlroy hopes to come full circle at US Open
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy will defend the US Open title he won so brilliantly last year after a bittersweet 12 months on the course where he has shown flashes of greatness and frailty.
McIlroy ticked two big items off his bucket list when he won last year's US Open then became world No 1 earlier this year, but his game has not been as smooth or as reliable as he would have liked.
He has not contended in any of the three majors played since his incredible win at Congressional and promptly handed back the world No 1 ranking to the more consistent Luke Donald, not once but twice.
When he has been on his game, McIlroy has looked every inch of the world beater he promises to be. But when he is off, the 23-year-old has looked like every other battler on the PGA Tour.
"I'm still trying to find a balance between being a top-class golfer and handling media commitments, sponsors' commitments, trying to have a life outside of all that, just trying to balance everything," McIlroy told reporters at a news conference earlier this month.
"It's something that it's hard to do all of them all at the same time. It's something that I'm still figuring out how to do. But I've got a good team around me, and we're trying to figure that out at the minute."
McIlroy started the year in great form, finishing runner-up at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship then winning the Honda Classic, which elevated him to the top of the rankings.
He then finished third at the WGC-Cadillac Championship before things started to unravel.
Memories of last year's Masters meltdown came flooding back when he finished tied for 40th at Augusta National and although he came second at Quail Hollow, he missed the cut in his next two events.
He showed some encouraging signs of a timely return to form when he completed his US Open preparations with a tie for seventh at the St Jude Classic, but even that was tinged with some disappointment after he led by two shots on the final day but made a double-bogey on the last hole when he needed a birdie to get into a playoff.
"I had a real good chance to win the golf tournament," said McIlroy.
"I didn't do that but I'm happy I came here. I feel like I'm well prepared going into the US Open. I can take a lot of positives from here into the US Open next week.
"It was a great chance to win another tournament, and I didn't quite capitalise on it. I'm a little disappointed with that."
The Northern Irishman has been through worse before and remains optimistic about his chances of successfully defending his US Open title.
He suffered every professional golfer's worst nightmare when he blew a four-shot final-round lead at the 2011 Masters but rather than dwell on his mishap, he erased any doubts about his mental toughness by winning the US Open at Congressional in a virtual canter, to claim his first major.
By any standard, it was an incredible performance, as he left his rivals for dead, finishing eight shots clear of his closest rival and finishing at 16-under par, a record total for a tournament that dates back to 1895.
"Coming back and winning the US Open was something that was very important to me," he told reporters at the Masters this year.
"It sort of proved to myself more than anything else that I was able to win at the very highest level in this sport and it gave me great confidence in myself that if things did go wrong.
"I knew how to fix them and I knew how to go forward. If it ever happens again, I just need to rely on that resilience to sort of get straight back up and get back at it."