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Rory: The Open in Northern Ireland 'surreal'

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- Twenty years after playing Royal Portrush for the first time as a 10th-birthday present from his father, Rory McIlroy is trying to fully grasp the reality of a tiny country hosting a major championship so near his boyhood home, while also figuring out how to win it.

Now 30 and a four-time major winner, McIlroy is among the favorites to win The Open at Royal Portrush, just the second playing of the championship outside of Great Britain and first since 1951.

"Portrush has been a big part of my upbringing," McIlroy said. "It's sort of surreal that it's here. Even driving in yesterday, when you're coming in on the road and you look to the right and you've got the second tee, and Tony Finau and someone else are teeing off, it's sort of strange to see them here.

"But it's really cool. It just sort of shows what we've done in terms of players. G-Mac [Graeme McDowell] winning the U.S. Open [2010]. Darren [Clarke] winning the Open [2011], and then some of the success I've had. And how Northern Ireland has come on as a country that we're able to host such a big event here again.

"Delighted that it's back here. Delighted to be a part of it. And at this stage just excited to tee it up and get going."

Therein lies the hard part for McIlroy, who in many ways is viewed as the face of This Open, having grown up less than an hour away, with an abundance of experience on the course and a world ranking of No. 3 that suggests he should be in contention.

But McIlroy noted that he is not bigger than the tournament, that it feels very much the same as it does for him at other Opens, and that it still is going to require strong golf, no matter who contends.

"I'm just treating this like any other Open championship," McIlroy said. "I've played well here for the last few years. I've played well on this golf course. So I've just got to go out and hit the shots and stay in the present. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, hopefully by Sunday night that will be good enough."

McIlroy shot 61 here as a 16-year-old but said he had played the course only three times in the past nine months before Wednesday. Although he still keeps a home in the area, McIlroy spends the majority of his time in the United States and lives in Florida.

"I'm maybe a little more comfortable around here than some of the other Open venues," said McIlroy, who won at Royal Liverpool in 2014. "I think the big key this week is to keep it out of the fairway bunkers and out of the rough. Even if you're giving yourself a little longer second shot in. You're able to play this golf course from the fairway. And with the way the rough has grown over the past couple of weeks, you're not going to be able to score hitting it off line."

McIlroy has two victories this year, at the Players Championship and Canadian Open, with nine other top-10 finishes.

"I think it's the most consistent period of golf I've ever played," he said.

McIlroy tees off Thursday at 5:09 a.m. ET (10:09 a.m. local time) with U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and Paul Casey.