Darren Clarke conceded there were nerves and he was emotional as he struck the opening tee shot of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush, where Webb Simpson was leading after a fine birdie streak.

Local hero Clarke was given the honour of starting Thursday's play and made a flying start by going three under par through his first five holes on the Dunluce links.

It was momentum the 2011 Open winner could not maintain, though, and the 50-year-old eventually signed for a level-par 71.

Reflecting on his opening tee shot, Clarke said: "On the first tee this morning a little bit [I felt the nerves], and then on the last. 

"There's always nerves. If any professional golfer tells you they haven't got nerves when you start a tournament, you're in the wrong job.

"It was more emotional than I thought it was going to be, to be honest. I knew the golf course was going to be fabulous."

The heavy downpours on the final practice day on Wednesday had been replaced by calmer conditions on Thursday morning and Clarke expects plenty of low scores throughout the week. 

"I think you guys know better than me, after having spoken to all the players and stuff, they're really enjoying the golf course," Clarke added. 

"It is a proper, fair test of golf. The scores are going to show that, not just today but at the end of the week. It was one of those things that I was very proud to be standing on that first tee hitting the first shot."

American Simpson was one clear at the top of the leaderboard having reached five under walking off the 15th tee, a run of five gains between the seventh and 13th propelling him up the field.

Irishman Shane Lowry and Scotland's Robert MacIntyre were each one shot back, while Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren and Dylan Frittelli were at three under par.

Rory McIlroy was making some progress from his dreadful start, which saw him make a quadruple-bogey eight at the first and drop another stoke at the fifth, as a gain at the seventh meant he was at four over.

Emiliano Grillo proved 13 is not unlucky for everyone as the Argentinian produced the first Open Championship hole-in-one for three years.

The Argentinian took a 9-iron off the tee at the par-three 13th and the ball landed on the green before rolling in to the cup to huge cheers from the crowd on the first day at Royal Portrush.

After taking the acclaim from his playing partners Sung Kang and Thomas Thurloway and their caddies, Grillo, who returned to level par for his first round with the ace, collected his ball and launched it into the crowd.

Grillo's hole-in-one was the first at an Open Championship since Louis Oosthuizen managed the feat at Royal Troon in 2016.

Rory McIlroy made an abysmal start to his Open Championship campaign with a quadruple-bogey eight at the first at Royal Portrush on Thursday.

The home hope was met with a deafening reception by an expectant crowd, with the 148th edition of the tournament set to be the second best attended in history.

McIlroy was out of bounds off the opening tee and struggled to regain his composure from there, despite conditions appearing set fair for low scoring.

The Northern Irishman, a four-time major winner, is seeking his second Claret Jug but already faces a huge task to climb the leaderboard.

Compatriot Darren Clarke had the honour of teeing off the action and he got to three under by the fifth but walked off the 15th at two under.

Shane Lowry topped the leaderboard after nine holes, making the turn in a three-under 33, with Charley Hoffman and Alex Noren for company, while reigning champion Francesco Molinari parred the first.

There was also a moment to remember for Italy's Emiliano Grillo, who lit up the 13th with an ace.

World number one Brooks Koepka goes out at 1304 (local time), with Tiger Woods not teeing it up until 1510.

Darren Clarke hit the opening tee shot of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush on Thursday, with the world's best golfers set to battle it out for the Claret Jug.

The sport's oldest major is returning to the course for the first time in 68 years and the Northern Irishman was given the honour of getting the tournament underway in his home nation.

Clarke, the 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year, carded a birdie on the par-four first, while playing partners Charley Hoffman and amateur James Sugrue made pars.

Home hope Rory McIlroy goes out at 10:09 local time (9:09 GMT), with reigning champion Francesco Molinari in the group before him.

Tiger Woods will have a score to aim at by the time he tees it up at 15:10 local time (14:10 GMT), with Patrick Reed and Matt Wallace alongside him.

Having won four of the past 10 majors, Brooks Koepka – off at 13:04 local time (12:04 GMT) – will certainly be one to watch on a day when rain is forecast at various stages.

Not even the arrival of the rain could dampen the spirits of the fans on the final practice day for the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

The sunshine that bathed the Dunluce links on Monday and Tuesday was replaced by a cloud and drizzle on Wednesday.

But the weather did nothing to paint a bleak outcome for a tournament the R&A said will be the best attended Open outside of St Andrews, with an estimated 237,750 people expected to walk through the entrance gates from Thursday to Sunday.

And, just a day out from the beginning of play, our Omnisport team brings you the behind-the-scenes goings on in Northern Ireland. 

HOME HOPE MCILROY ECLIPSES TIGER

The interview room in the media centre this week has been visited by Claret Jug holder Francesco Molinari, multiple major winner Brooks Koepka, former world number one Dustin Johnson, and the legendary Phil Mickelson, among others.

But the battle for the best-attended media conference was always going to be between 15-time major champion Tiger Woods and home hope Rory McIlroy.

And, after some admittedly rushed counting of empty seats - of which there were very few - during each event, this Omnisport reporter can declare McIlroy as the winner!

There's no trophy to accompany this honour, Rory, but I'm sure you're proud of the achievement...

 

MCILROY AND MCDOWELL NEED A DE-CIDER

McIlroy famously shot a course record at Portrush back in 2005, at the age of just 16.

It was a clear indication the young Northern Irishman was destined for great things, but fellow major winner and compatriot Graeme McDowell reckons his best score on the links course might be more impressive, given that he was under the influence at the time.

He explained: "I remember when Rory shot the 61 – I thought, 'wow, that's a serious score' and that he was a serious, serious player. 

"I shot 63 a couple of times, although not in the North of Ireland Championship like he did – maybe it doesn't count as much when you're having a Magners on the 10th tee with the lads! Or maybe it counts more…"

 

WHERE'S THAT BALL GONE THEN?!

It is not only out and about on the course you can see the world's best players at a major championship, with the practice range a huge draw for the patrons.

One of the funky features of the range is the LED screens that surround the bays that track the progress of a player's golf ball.

That technology is made possible by Toptracer, who a couple of Omnisport staff on the ground spent some time with ahead of the start of play.

Any thoughts of a high-tech tent were quickly misguided, with a beautifully simplistic set-up on display. 

Unsurprisingly, Dustin Johnson was high up the leaderboard in terms of longest drive, but it was Chan Kim who was leading the way...

There is a stencil artwork of a young Rory McIlroy on a wall by the Portrush seafront. The photograph on which it is based shows the cherubic face of a boy no older than seven or eight, his eyes tracing the flight of a golf ball he has just struck.

Off in the distance, about a mile from that depiction, sits the town's famous links course, Royal Portrush, which plays host to the 2019 Open Championship.

On Thursday, a 30-year-old McIlroy will step onto the first tee as the favourite to win the Claret Jug. It would be the Northern Irishman's second, and a fifth major triumph in total.

Speaking on the eve of that landmark day, McIlroy addressed a crowd of media larger than that which had assembled for 15-time major winner Tiger Woods 24 hours earlier and declared: "I'm not the centre of attention."

It may have been modesty, or perhaps just a case of wishful thinking, as McIlroy appears determined to understate the role he has to play on home soil while everyone else talks up his part.

"One of my sort of mantras this week is: Look around and smell the roses," he said. 

"This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general, and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege.

"I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me, right? This is bigger than me."

He said it twice, first posed as a question, the second time a statement. It was an attempt to convince not only those listening but also himself.

McIlroy knows that even if the tournament itself does indeed eclipse his own significance, there is no single player this week who will attract a greater share of the spotlight. No, not even Tiger.

The Open has been a happy hunting ground for McIlroy, who won it in 2014 before an ankle injury suffered during an ill-advised football kickabout ruled him out of defending his title.

Since then, in three subsequent outings at the world's oldest major, he has not finished outside the top five.

Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only two active players with more major wins than McIlroy, but it has been five years since his last and there is a growing sense he may fall short of the admittedly lofty expectations that once rested on his shoulders, and in many ways still do. 

Over the next four days - because the notion of McIlroy missing the cut at this event cannot be seriously entertained - he will feel those expectations manifest in the form of widespread goodwill from the massed ranks of fans who will line the Portrush course in the hope of seeing a fairy tale play out.

The locals here are proud to see this venue hosting The Open once again, many of them having not been born when it last had the honour 68 years ago. For one of the country's most famous exports to win it would make them prouder still.

That would be a story a young McIlroy could scarcely have comprehended.

Rory McIlroy is "completing the package" and has never been in a better place mentally according to Graeme McDowell, who sees no reason why his countryman cannot win The Open this week.

Expectations will be high on McIlroy and McDowell from a home support witnessing the event being played at Royal Portrush after a 68-year absence.

Three years ago, speaking prior to the same tournament, McIlroy suggested he would not even watch golf at the Olympics let alone feature, but earlier on Wednesday confessed a fear of regret at not playing at the Games has fuelled a re-think and he intends to compete at Tokyo 2020.

The only complication for McIlroy is seemingly whether to represent Ireland or Great Britain in Japan.

McDowell acknowledged the difficulty McIlroy has with his decision, but says the four-time major winner has never been in a better place mentally as he attempts to lift a second Claret Jug.

"In the whole Olympic question, Northern Ireland sits in such a unique, precarious, kind of situation," he said. 

"There's no right or wrong answer, which is difficult for an athlete, especially one who has such a high profile like Rory.

"[But] as far as the kind of ambassador he is, he's fantastic. He's Ireland's greatest ever player and he's a great role model for kids. 

"To me as he continues to mature I feel like this year, especially, I've never seen him in such a good place mentally. 

"I feel like he's grown up a huge amount and certainly he's embracing the challenges ahead of him as he becomes older. He's certainly a lot more philosophical these days, I feel like. 

"He's done a lot of work on his game, on the mental side of his game and like I say I've never seen him so calculated and in such a good place mentally. 

"Physically we've never doubted him in any way, shape or form. I feel like he's completing the package as we speak. It wouldn't surprise me to see him go real close this week, if not win."

McDowell also reflected on how the decision to bring The Open back to Portrush for the first time since 1951 came to be.

The 39-year-old said initially it started as a joke with former R&A chief Peter Dawson, but when he, Darren Clarke and McIlroy all became major champions the prospect became much more real.

"As a kid I never really thought about [why Portrush did not host The Open]," he added. "I never really thought about the reasons why. 

"I mean, the obvious political struggles that we had, I was too young to really grasp the magnitude and the reasons and be able to comprehend what the solutions were back in those days.

"But when I eventually got out here on Tour and started spending time at Open Championship venues and got familiar enough with Peter Dawson to be able to kind of give him a little bit of a ribbing, it started off as a joke, 'Why can't we go back to Portrush?' Myself and Darren and Rory, especially. And the reasons were: Infrastructure, and this and that and the other.

"When the ball really started to get rolling was when Padraig [Harrington] won his three majors and then I won and Rory and Darren picked up a major each, as well. And the jokes turned kind of serious. 

"It was the Irish Open in 2012 when we broke the European Tour attendance record. I think the R&A couldn't ignore the fact that this could be a commercial success. The jokes became very serious."

Playing at Royal Portrush this week will have a home-from-home feeling for Jon Rahm, who hopes his previous successes at The Irish Open can lead to a major breakthrough.

The Spaniard claimed his first Irish Open victory at Portstewart two years ago and earned a confidence-boosting triumph in Lahinch at the start of this month.

Rahm emanates from Barrika, a town in the Basque Country in northern Spain, and enjoys a strong feeling of familiarity in Northern Ireland for the 148th Open Championship this week.  

"I just like it. Ever since the first time I played here, in Portstewart two years ago, the Irish crowd is treating me very, very specially," he said. 

"I've had a great support. And it's the closest I'll ever feel to playing at home, without being at home, really. That's what I think makes it so special.

"The first year I didn't expect it. I didn't expect the support. And I think Spanish people have a lot of pride about the country of Spain, and being Basque, Basque people have a lot of pride in being Basque, and especially in my city. I think Northern Irish people are really proud of their country and to be where they're from. I feel that's a similarity and have a similar feel.

"When I'm walking around my hometown in Spain, for the most part of the year we get similar weather. Summer is a little bit better. We're right on the coast, fishing villages. It's just a very similar feel to what I had growing up. So, it's a lot of home feel, too, without being at home."

Rahm is taking plenty of confidence from his previous moments of glory on Irish soil and links golf courses as he aims to win a maiden major.

He added: "There are definitely a lot of positives to take from it. If I ever have doubt, which I shouldn't, I can always remind myself that I've been able to win twice here. That's the reason why I can get it done.

"There's a lot of positive in that sense. A lot of confidence in knowing that I'm more than capable to win an Open Championship, to win on a links golf course."

It does not matter if you are Tiger Woods, an aspiring amateur, a club-shop pro, or a recreational golfer - the truth is anyone who has picked up a club at some point or another has hit a duff shot.

Don't even lie about it. You've done it, I've done it. Every professional golfer has at one point or another done it. It's okay, it happens – after that initial fury bubbling up inside you subsides, you realise it's all part of the learning process.

Now, in a bygone era it may have been a friend or relative offering 'advice' as to why your ball has gone inexplicably careering to the right.

You lifted your head too soon, you over-rotated, you're swinging too quickly. Yes, dad, alright, I get it, that was a terrible shot.

But, the experience of the driving range is meant to be fun and is only being enhanced thanks to the Toptracer technology, which Omnisport checked out at Royal Portrush's practice range ahead of the 148th Open Championship.

For those unfamiliar with the company, the funky ball-tracking lines on broadcasts following the progress of a player's shot are made possible by Toptracer.

The idea was essentially to enhance the viewing experience of fans watching at home by tracking the flight of a ball and adding graphics so you can see the height, trajectory and destination of a shot.

In 2012, Toptracer expanded its reach to driving ranges in a bid to improve the experience off the practice mats.

"I think this really suits every standard as a golfer. As a beginner your eye isn't particularly well trained on what the golf ball could be doing and so very often you see when a beginner will look for a golf ball and see where it's gone," Paul Williams, General Manager of Toptracer Europe, told Omnisport. 

"By having the information right there in the [driving range] bay on a 21-inch touch screen, giving you feedback on how high it's gone and what direction, gives them insight, education and a journey into the sport. 

"They instantly become more engaged, we're seeing lots of our venues running beginner golf groups and booking straight onto improved courses because they're getting hooked straight way."

Even at just shy of 5.30pm on Tuesday, when Omnisport visited the Toptracer tent, there were still plenty of professionals out honing their skills and throughout the day the grandstand behind the practice range was packed with patrons trying to get a glimpse of their favourite golfer – a certain local hero by the name of Rory McIlroy proving a particularly popular draw.

The LED screens to the left of the range - featuring Toptracer graphics - do provide a genuinely enhanced experience in this part of the week, but the players also gain useful information such as ball speed, curve and apex.

"The tournament range set-up has been used at The Open since St Andrews four years ago. Each year more players are becoming more familiar with the technology available to them," Williams added.

"It's quite interesting. We see very similar reactions from the best players in the world to people we see at our driving ranges, where they'll hit a shot and after watching a second or two of ball flight they'll look at the screen and go 'right what did the ball do?' 

"It's just for that confirmation of data that they're looking for to improve their game and, for these guys here, making sure they're in the best condition for The Open Championship.

"We have some of the players' caddies pop into the station to the side of the driving range. They'll come in and ask for their player to be put up on the boards.  

"Each of them can have their data on their warm-up rounds, and obviously before they go out in the tournament - the tech is live until Sunday when they leave the range."

So, what about behind the scenes? If you're imagining a futuristic room packed with funky gadgets then you'd be very much mistaken. It is a beautifully simplistic set-up, with only a handful of staff in the tent with laptops and screens.

One such man helping to bring the practice sessions to life is Dustin Thomas, who helps run Toptracer's range operations.

Part of his job involves hitting a few practice shots prior to the players arriving and picking which names to include on the LED board.

"I pick and choose based on what they're hitting and we do like to listen to the fans and also the players," he said, while demonstrating the different features available.

"If someone is requested we like to choose them. But also we like to use the long hitters out there and use some pretty cool drives."

So, who have been the big hitters so far at the practice range at Portrush?

"Right now we have Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner and C. [Chan] Kim on the leaderboards. That was when the wind was kind of down," Thomas added.

"The top drive is 320 yards. Johnson is following with 315. We can do some cool features with those long drives and show it in fireworks mode. We take all of the long drives, put them into a group and send them all off at once."

'Fireworks mode' is a pretty apt term considering the field at The Open this week will be looking to produce sparks out on the course at Portrush.

And who knows? Perhaps the man who gets his hands on the Claret Jug on Sunday may have done so with the aid of information they gleaned from Toptracer.

Rory McIlroy says he is reminding himself this week's Open Championship at Royal Portrush is "bigger than me" and the significance of the tournament returning to Northern Ireland is not lost on him.

The four-time major winner will have the backing of a fervent home support when The Open is played at Portrush for the first time in 68 years this weekend.

Earlier this week, 2011 victor Darren Clarke spoke of how such an event returning to Portrush represents a marquee moment following the Northern Ireland conflict, a period in the country's history also known as 'The Troubles'.

It was a theme McIlroy continued when addressing the media on Wednesday and the 30-year-old hopes the tournament can leave a lasting legacy.

"I've always felt I've played my best golf when I've been totally relaxed and loose and maybe that environment is what I need," the 2014 Open champion said.

"I'm not saying that that's the way I'm going to approach it. I'm still going to try to go out and shoot good scores and concentrate and do all the right things.

"But at the same time, I can't just put the blinkers on and pretend that's not all going on. One of my sort of mantras this week is, 'Look around and smell the roses'. 

"This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me.

"I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that then it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. 

"I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more."

McIlroy added The Open being played in Northern Ireland is a sign the country has moved on from the past.

"It's a different time. It's a very prosperous place. I'm very fortunate that I grew up just outside Belfast and I never saw anything, I was oblivious to it," he added.

"I remember I watched a movie a couple of years ago, it was just basically called '71'. It's about a British soldier that gets stationed at the Palace Barracks in Holywood, which is literally 500 yards from where I grew up and it basically follows him on the night of The Troubles and all that. And I remember asking my mum and dad, is this actually what happened?

"It's amazing to think 40 years on it's such a great place, no one cares who they are, where they're from, what background they're from, but you can have a great life and it doesn't matter what side of the street you come from. 

"I think that's what I was talking about with the legacy of this tournament, to be able to have this tournament here again, I think it speaks volumes of where the country and where the people that live here are now. We're so far past that and that's a wonderful thing.

"No matter what happens this week, if I win or whoever else wins, having The Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf and I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country."

Rory McIlroy admits the fear of regret fuelled his change of heart over competing at the Olympics.

The Northern Irishman is on home soil for this week's 148th Open Championship, having caused a stir with comments he made at the same major three years ago.

At Royal Troon, ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, McIlroy suggested he would not even bother to watch the golf competition, which ended up being won by Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose.

Despite his dismissive tone then, McIlroy - who initially cited the Zika virus as the reason for his absence from Brazil - had clearly shifted his stance when he addressed the issue at Royal Portrush on Wednesday as he now has Tokyo 2020 firmly in his sights.

"I think personally I needed to do a lot of inner thought and ask, 'Is this important to me? Why do I want to play it? Who do I want to represent?' All that sort of stuff," he said, with his decision apparently complicated by whether he would turn out for Ireland or Great Britain.

"At the start whenever I was thinking of playing the Olympics, I think I let other people's opinions of me weigh on that decision. And at the end of the day, it's my decision. I can't please everyone. 

"The only people that really care about who I play for, who I represent, don't mean anything to me. I don't care about them.

"So at the end of the day, I think with where golf is, with it being part of the Olympic movement, I think if I had to look back on my career and not played in one, I probably would have regretted it. 

"So that was part of the reason I wanted to go, for the experience, as well. It's going to be - it's a wonderful experience. I've never done anything like that before.

"And it's in Japan. I enjoy Japan. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the food. So it will be a nice week."

The 30-year-old is going in search of a second Claret Jug and fifth major, having not won one of golf's four landmark events since 2014.

Rory McIlroy does not feel like he is the centre of attention at Royal Portrush this week and insists he will treat the 148th Open Championship the same as any other.

It has been 68 years since golf's oldest major was played on Portrush's Dunluce links and there is an understandable intrigue about local favourite McIlroy around the venue.

The Northern Irishman set Portrush's course record as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2005 and is aiming to end a five-year major drought on home soil.

McIlroy will undoubtedly draw plenty of eyes when play begins on Thursday and has spoken in the past of struggling with the attention when playing at the Irish Open.

But he is planning to draw on the support of a partisan home crowd.

"I think it's probably easier this week because it's such a big tournament. You've got the best players in the world here and I don't feel like I'm the centre of attention," he said.

"I'm from Northern Ireland and I'm playing at home, but I don't see myself as that centre of attention, I guess. 

"I'm here to enjoy myself. Hopefully it doesn't take another 68 years for the tournament to come back here.

"But at the same time, I might not get an opportunity to play an Open Championship here again. You never know what happens. I'm really just treating it as a wonderful experience and one that I really want to enjoy.

"I'm going to love being out there and having the crowds and having the support. If that can't help you, then nothing can."

As well as his own local knowledge, McIlroy has another ace up his sleeve in the shape of caddie Harry Diamond, who is also a Northern Ireland native. 

McIlroy believes Diamond, a friend since childhood who was best man at his wedding, possesses a more intimate knowledge of Portrush than he does, while accepting the 61 he shot 14 years ago counts for little due to the changes made to the course in the intervening years.

"I think that's one of the things people don't realise, Harry has played more rounds of golf on this golf course than I have, and definitely more competitive rounds," McIlroy added.

"He's just as comfortable on this golf course as I am. So that is a big help this week.

"Harry's experience around here, he's probably played this place more times than I have, not that I don't let him have any say any other weeks, but I think with his experience around here, my ear will be a little sharper to what he has to say.

"This golf course has changed so much since 2005 when I shot the 61. It's a different par, different holes. There's a lot of holes that have been lengthened. There's been a par five turned into a par four.

"I think this week, [rainy] conditions like this, then you're looking at 67, 68 is a good score. [Clear] conditions like I played it last night, then you could probably potentially see someone shoot a 63, 64, 65."

Rory McIlroy is used to the intense gaze of the golfing world being locked onto his every move but that feeling will be enhanced tenfold at the 148th Open Championship.

For the first time in McIlroy's lifetime, The Open will be held in Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush – where he holds the course record.

Expectations will be high from a partisan home crowd and from McIlroy himself.

But McIlroy heads home without a major championship to his name in the past five years, the last of his four coming at the 2014 US PGA Championship.

At that time it seemed laughable McIlroy would not add to his tally. Now, though, after several near misses, the question of whether the 30-year-old can be a major winner again is up for debate, which is exactly what two Omnisport writers have done ahead of The Open.

STAND STILL AND YOU GO BACKWARDS IN THIS GAME, RORY - RUSSELL GREAVES

In 2014, McIlroy had the world at his feet. His Valhalla victory made it back-to-back major triumphs, the 25-year-old adding the US PGA title to the Claret Jug he had lifted the month before.

With four majors to his name, the sky was the limit.

But in the game of golf, if you stand still you will go backwards. And that is the fate that has befallen McIlroy.

In the past three years alone, Brooks Koepka has drawn level with McIlroy's major haul, while Jordan Spieth is within one. Even Tiger Woods, who was declared finished by some, has returned to the winner's circle at one of golf's four headline events.

McIlroy, meanwhile, has flattered to deceive, collecting top-10 finishes (10 of them, in fact) without ever showing the killer instinct to finish the job.

There have been collapses, but mostly he has just faded away or else quietly put together a decent Sunday round to add window dressing to an underwhelming outing.

His form at The Open underscores this tendency to appear on the radar without actually threatening to strike.

In 2016 he placed tied fifth after a fine closing 67, but he was 16 shots adrift of the imperious Henrik Stenson. A year later, at Royal Birkdale, another final-round 67 saw him share fourth spot, seven strokes behind. And last year, when Carnoustie hosted, he was within two of Francesco Molinari's winning score.

McIlroy has often appeared to be in close proximity to major glory, but he has in truth been a world away, gazing longingly from the vantage point of a man who once knew what such lofty achievements felt like. It is a feeling he may never experience again.

RORY IS A VICTIM OF HIS OWN SUCCESS, HE WILL BE A MAJOR WINNER AGAIN - PETER HANSON

Let's put something into context here. McIlroy had four major wins to his name before the age of 30.

Only three players could boast more by the same milestone. Two of those were Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the greatest to have played this toughest of sports.

You see the problem when a player like McIlroy is marked as a prodigious talent is that anything short of the extraordinary is deemed a failure.

But not many in history can lay claim to the same achievements by this stage of his career than McIlroy can. Against what benchmark should we be monitoring him here?

The successes of Spieth and Koepka are not an indication of a player standing still, more an era in which it is nigh on impossible to stand as a lone dominant force.

McIlroy's top-10 finishes must not be viewed as a sign of failure but as one of a player with remarkable consistency.

No one will be more disappointed than McIlroy himself that things have not quite been able to click all at once over four days in major tournaments over the past five years.

But when it does all come together, and it absolutely will, McIlroy – who has been a victim of his own success – will be a major champion once again.

It was another glorious day at Royal Portush as preparations for the Open Championship continued on Tuesday.

Players aplenty faced the media - including a certain Tiger Woods - and there were a host of big names out on the course.

And they weren't the only ones strolling the stunning links track, with Omnisport's reporters also on the prowl.

Here's a sample of what they happened upon during their travels inside the media tent and beyond...

 

NO PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?

Brooks Koepka's record is a peculiar thing.

The world number one has won four of the past 10 majors and placed second at the Masters and U.S. Open either side of defending the US PGA Championship in the first three major tournaments of 2019.

But he is only a twice a winner on the regular PGA Tour. So what's the difference?

"I just practice before the majors. Regular tournaments I don't practice. If you've seen me on TV, that's when I play golf," he said to laughter from the press pack.

Top marks for honesty there, Brooks.

PINT OF GUINNESS, TIGER?

Tiger Woods was in a jovial mood during his media conference, which as ever was the best attended of them all.

When asked if he'd had chance to have a sip of Guinness, the three-time Open winner offered this assessment of one of the more popular Irish delicacies.

"This week? No, not this week. In the past...hmm," he joked.

 

LOST IN THE ROUGH

One of the joys of covering an Open Championship is heading out on the course to take in the sights and catch a bit of golf.

On practice days, with reduced crowds, it's an opportunity to follow some of the big names without having to contend with the masses that follow the action during the tournament.

But the plans of one Omnisport reporter, who set out to watch Brooks Koepka, were thwarted by some poor navigation and, in fairness, a little bit of bad luck.

If you take a wrong turn on this course and get stuck the wrong side of one of the boundary ropes that funnel spectators down certain pathways, you can end up a long way from where you want to be.

And so it proved for this lost reporter, who never did track down Koepka and was left instead to watch Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who has won four fewer majors than the American.

A lot has changed in the world over the past 25 years but one thing has remained remarkably consistent in that time – Phil Mickelson's Official World Golf Ranking.

Incredibly, the American has never been outside the top 50 players during the last quarter of a century.

During that time, Mickelson has become a three-time Masters champion and has also won The Open in 2013 as well as the US PGA Championship in 2005.

Mickelson, now 49, was presented with a special award for his astounding achievement at Royal Portrush on Tuesday, two days prior to the start of the 148th Open Championship.

"It's a special honour to be able to have this, I feel very fortunate to be able to play golf," said Mickelson, who surpassed 25 years in November. 

"To be recognised for this achievement, I'm very grateful.

"My passion for the game and my love for the game of golf always consumes my thoughts."

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