RORY McIlroy is hoping to put the icing on the cake of a perfect 60th birthday present for his father by claiming a maiden Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title.
The Northern Irishman is playing alongside his dad Gerry in an event which has provided him many special memories – but not yet an elusive victory.
The famous pro-am event features a star-studded line-up in Scotland this week, with many of the world’s best golfers playing alongside celebrities, businessmen and women, and family members, over three stunning venues – St Andrews Old Course, Kingsbarns Golf Links and Carnoustie Golf Links.
McIlroy is playing alongside his father for the third time in the pro-am event and, has finished runner-up on three occasions in the individual event.
Having also claimed his European Tour card for the first time at the age of 18 thanks to a third-place finish in 2007, the former World No. 1 is hoping to capitalise on his superb 2019 form by triumphing for the first time in his career at St Andrews.
In 2010, McIlroy, who lead The Open after a first round 63, was blown away in the second round of the Open as the wind helped the Old Course bare its teeth.
After an 80 which ultimately cost him a first Claret Jug as he had to settle for tied third, led to claims Rory did not enjoy playing in the wind despite his experiences as an amateur playing in Northern Ireland.
McIlroy, who has shot 17 out of 28 rounds in 60s in the Alfred Dunhill Links, in seven appearances, said: “I guess the history I’ve had at this tournament from getting my Tour card back in 2007 to having a few chances to win, and not quite getting the job done – it obviously would be really nice to win at St. Andrews at some point.
“I think, at this point in my career, I’m still trying to play well individually.¯
“But you know, I’m taking the team part of it almost just as serious as the individual part,” said the 2014 Open Champion, whose worst score in the Dunhill is a third round 78 in 2008, and has shot 65 or better three times in seven appearances in Fife.
“It’s my dad’s 60th birthday next week, and I said to him, what do you want for your birthday, and he said, I’d love to play the Dunhill one more time.
“This is his birthday present. His last hoorah, I think. Hopefully we have a good week and make it to Sunday.”
World No. 5 Jon Rahm will also make his debut in the tournament alongside his father, while World No. 4 Justin Rose will take to the tee alongside pop superstar Justin Timberlake.
Rose, who became the first Hampshire player to win the St Andrews Links Trophy, one of the most prestigious amateur events, back in 1997, said: “I have just good memories of being here, really.”
But after winning the European No. 1 crown in 2007, Rose returned from his new US base to play the Alfred Dunhill in 2008 – but has not returned since.
“I can’t believe it’s been 11 years,” Rose added. “It’s amazing how time flies but I’m excited.
“The little shift in the schedule and obviously with Wentworth being later in the year, FedEx Cup and all that stuff, it feels like it’s a really nice time of year to play here again. I’m excited to be back.
“It’s cool to be playing with Justin Timberlake. Obviously I’m quite happy to be another Justin on the golf course – that’s probably always the case, anyway, with Justin Thomas and the young kids around.
“I’m kind of used to it these days. It’s fun to be playing with him.”
Rahm played his first-ever professional round at St Andrews with his father on Wednesday.
Rahm said: “It’s great to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time, and it was really nice to share that moment with my parents and share this with my parents and my fiancée.
“I’m really looking forward to starting the tournament. St Andrews is great.
“Very different to all the other ones. One through 11, downwind, was really fun. Twelve through 18 into the wind was not!
“As simple as that. That’s the beauty of this golf course. On paper, it’s not the most difficult one, but it can be tough.
“Those last six holes, from 13 on, I hit five-iron into 13, hit driver, three-wood, six-iron into 14, and five-iron to 15, five-iron to 16, five-iron short on the 17th.
“I don’t think it can play more difficult than it did today, but a great golf course. You can just feel it’s a great atmosphere around this town related to golf,” the four-time European Tour winner added.
“It’s really fun to be here. I really love playing here and hopefully I can have a good showing.”
Meanwhile Danny Willett, returns to action just days after his remarkable BMW PGA Championship victory at Wentworth last week.P
Willett, who won the English Amateur title at Royal St George’s in 2007, said: “We had a little party last night and flew up this morning, so I’m slightly worse for wear.
“But you’ve got to enjoy the things when you have success, and I fly up now and hopefully the weather clears a little bit and we’ll play a little bit of golf this afternoon – kind of get your head back on for tomorrow and start again.
“It is great to be back here. It would be nice to get a good week under our belt, and then before a week off before a really busy end to the season.
“We’re here this week and will try and knuckle down and enjoy it for the week it is. Obviously having a great time with the pro-am guys and making sure they have a good time – and see what we can do.”