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Rory McIlroy: Seve and Faldo major records still in reach – but I am proud of career regardless

Rory McIlroy pulls a club from his bag on the 17th hole during a practice round
Rory McIlroy acknowledges 'the clock is ticking' to win another major - Getty Images/Gregory Shamus

Rory McIlroy still believes he is within touching distance of becoming the best European male golfer of the modern age, but if the Northern Irishman fails and the majorless run continues, he insists he will not feel he fell short.

McIlroy has only this US Open and next month’s Open to avoid going the full decade without adding to his collection of Big Four titles and he has acknowledged that “the clock is ticking”. Yet despite the burden, he claims to be packed with self-belief about finally ending the barren streak here at the 124th US Open and so emulating Seve Ballesteros’s haul of five majors and closing to within one of Sir Nick Faldo’s record.

“I still feel like being the most successful European in the game is within my reach – I’ve got Seve and Faldo to pass in terms of major wins,” he said, when arriving at the No 2 course on Tuesday.

“But regardless, I’m really proud of my body of work over the past 15 years and everything that I‘ve achieved, whether it be season-long titles or individual tournaments or majors.

“Obviously getting my hands on a fifth major has taken quite a while, but I’m more confident than ever that I’m right there, that I’m as close as I’ve ever been.”

Of course, his detractors will roll their eyes at this statement. With every passing opportunity there is inevitably a growing conviction that it might well be a case for the 35-year-old of “four and no more”. If 2024 comes and goes and then 2025 as well, he would have to set a new mark in the men’s game for the gaps between majors.

Tiger Woods’ Masters comeback in 2019 was 11 years after his previous triumph – at the 2008 US Open – and the odds are clearly lengthening for McIlroy. Even Artificial Intelligence now doubts him. A Las Vegas betting company put his stats through the AI simulator which deduced that his processional at Congressional 13 years is it for McIlroy as far as America’s national championship is concerned.

However, McIlroy, this wonderfully-natural talent, will not be vexed by what some computer says and is also refusing to weigh himself down with a lifetime goal. “I want to win as many golf tournaments as I can and win as many majors as I can,” he said. “But the thing about picking a number [you want to get to] is that you’re setting yourself up for failure or disappointment.

“Tiger wanted to surpass Jack [Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors]. Looks like he mightn’t get there, but are we going to call Tiger’s career a failure? Absolutely not. He’s arguably played the best golf anyone’s ever seen.

“[But] there’s always going to be that tinge of what could have been. I don’t want to do that to myself. I still have a good bit of time, hopefully for the next 10 years. But whatever those numbers are, whatever the totals add up to, I’ll accept it and feel I’ve done pretty well for a little boy from Northern Ireland who dreamed of playing golf for a living one day.”

McIlroy certainly has the US Open form figures to suggest he can break the drought when he goes out alongside the world No’s 1 and 2 – Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and US PGA Champion Xander Schauffele respectively – on Thursday and Friday.

He told Telegraph Sport last week that after missing three cuts in succession from 2016 at the game’s most arduous major, he wrote in his journal that he had to change his attitude and “try to build my game to suit the toughest venues”.

McIlroy reiterated this on Tuesday calling it  “my come-to-Jesus moment”. The epiphany worked. In 2019 he finished 9th, the next year 8th, then 7th, then 5th before a one-shot 2nd last year. As they say in America – trending.

“It was just a reframing of my mindset, really – I’ve embraced embracing the difficult conditions, embraced patience, embraced the style of golf needed to contend at a US Open, and it put me on a pretty good run at this event,” McIlroy said. “And that’s exciting because all aspects of my game are in good shape at the minute.”