Rory McIlroy’s Irish Open highs and lows: Can he take victory at Mount Juliet this week?

The Northern Irishman has had a mixed time in his home Open but he’ll head to County Kilkenny in encouraging form.

Best Bet

Rory McIlroy to win the Irish Open at 5/1

Rory McIlroy is once again the star turn at this week's Irish Open.

This is the 13th time the four-time Major winner has contested his home Open but his results have been a mixed bag.

Rory has suffered four missed cuts in his last six appearances although during that run he achieved a lifelong ambition by winning the event at the K Club in 2016.

But if that was the ultimate high, McIlroy's last return to his home shores was the ultimate low: a missed cut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, the course he grew up on.

So what can we expect from McIlroy this time as the tournament heads to Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny?

First, let's look at at his highs and lows in an event which he first contested as an amateur in 2005. Unfortunately for Rory, there have been more of the latter.

The highs

A golden week in 2016 and a highly-promising debut as a pro stand out in Rory's Irish Open career.

The K Club 2016

For the second year running, McIlroy hosted the event with his charitable foundation. It meant he had plenty on his plate as he looked for a first win in the tournament on this his 10th appearance.

Some worries with the putter combined with a poor weather forecast meant there were further doubts although he was the clear 7/2 favourite to take victory.

Fast starts are key for Rory in big events and he got one via a 5-under 67 on day one, putting him second after 18 holes. He backed it up with a pair of 70s to grab a piece of the lead going into Sunday's final round.

Could he pull off a memorable win? It looked in doubt when he trailed Russell Knox by a stroke when taking to the 16th tee but Rory birdied the hole and then produced a stunning fairway wood from 253 yards at the last for a kick-in eagle.

That shot for the ages secured a three-stroke win and a first prize of £515,500, all of which he donated to his charity.

"I don't really get emotional when I win, but I was holding back the tears there," he said later.

"To play like that and finish like that, with all my friends and family watching was just so special."

Adare Manor 2008

Still a teenager and playing in just his second Irish Open and first as a pro, McIlroy battled gamely to finish in a tie for seventh.

A 19-year-old Rory fired three rounds of 70 and a 72 to finish just four shots back from England's Richard Finch.

Not bad given that McIlroy was ranked 175th in the world at the time.

He said later: "To come here with all the expectation on my shoulders, it was absolutely fantastic. The support I got out there was great."

The lows

Rory has had a string of disappointments in the event but some felt worse than others.

Royal County Down 2015

Acting as tournament host for the first time, Rory declared that famed Royal County Down was his favourite course.

But in scenes that would become familiar at Royal Portrush in the 2019 Open, McIlroy fell apart in round one, shooting a miserable 80.

A 71 on day two couldn't repair the damage and the missed cut added to early exits in both 2013 and 2014.

"I'm very disappointed. It's one of the tournaments of the year that I really earmarked that I wanted to try and do well in," he said.

"It's my third year in a row where all of the people out there supporting me won't be able to watch me over the last couple of days."

Portstewart 2017

After his brilliant victory in 2016, Rory got to defend his title at Portstewart, a place close to home.

"My game feels in really good shape," he said on the eve of the tournament, revealing that he'd been playing plenty of links golf in the build-up.

McIlroy even had a property in the town although his stay was cut short after frustrating rounds of 72 and 73 led to a missed cut.

Fota Island 2014

The summer of 2014 was a special one for McIlroy.

He played the best golf of his career and ended up winning back-to-back Majors: the Open Championship at Hoylake and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

But before that red-hot run which included a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in between, he fluffed his lines again at the Irish Open. McIlroy shot 74-69 and missed the cut.

To give that context, in the other 23 events he played in 2014, McIlroy didn't finish outside the top 25 in any of them!

Killarney 2011

"I don't think I've ever been this excited about an Irish Open. I think, you know, with Darren doing what he did a couple of weeks ago, and myself winning in the US, I think there's a tremendous atmosphere and a great buzz about the tournament.

"You know, looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and expecting big crowds."

That was Rory referring to compatriot Darren Clarke's emotional Open win at Royal St. George's and his own stunning display in the US Open where he demolished the field by eight to land a first Major.

"I feel as if I'm hitting the ball as good as I have all year," he added just before tee-off.

Everything looked in a place but a poor weekend meant he had to settle for tied 34th.

Rory's chances at Mount Juliet this week

McIlroy is the hot favourite to take victory and, although that's been the case plenty of times in the past, he looks ready to push for a second win in the event.

Rory McIlroy signs autographs at Mount Juliet
Rory McIlroy signs autographs at Mount Juliet

Mount Juliet is an inland, tree-lined track and the weather forecast is for sun and little wind. It's the kind of conditions in which Rory has won plenty of times on the PGA Tour.

The course is designed by Jack Nicklaus so, again, this has far more of an American feel than an Irish links.

Four starts ago, he ended an 18-month win drought by capturing the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

And there were more good signs in the US Open at Torrey Pines where Rory made a sustained challenge before having to settle for tied seventh.

He ranked 2nd in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green at Torrey so his long game is looking in excellent shape again.

If the putts drop, Rory will be very hard to beat.

One final note: Rory has a far better record south of the border. Does he put too much pressure on himself when contesting this event in Northern Ireland?

Given that we're in the south this week, that could bode well too.

Rory on the course

"It's looking fabulous. Wonderful weather. Great golf course. It's great. I've never played here before. I've been here to watch when the World Golf Championships were here in 2002 and 2004; we came down to watch, but a little different playing it. And, yeah, obviously the vantage point is a little different, as well.

"But yeah, it's in great shape. I played the back nine today. I'll play all 18 tomorrow in the Pro-Am."

Rory on his current form

"I was very encouraged walking away from Torrey Pines, to have a share of the lead on the final day through a few holes. I gave myself a good chance.

"I thought the week was a real positive on the whole and I'm looking forward to these next three weeks."

After this week, McIlroy will play the Scottish Open before heading to Kent to contest the 149th Open Championship at Royal St. George's.

READ MORE: Code-cracking European Tour moves through the gears: Leading contenders at the Irish Open

Latest news