McIlroy seeks to end barren spell at Dunhill Links

ST ANDREWS, United Kingdom: Rory McIlroy is seeking to end a disappointing year with a flourish at this week's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship but will face a tough challenge from a heavyweight field.

The four-time major winner is facing his first season without a title since 2008 as he prepares to tee off at his final event of the season on Thursday.

Contested over three courses, the Dunhill Links is the Northern Irishman's chance to redeem an injury-dogged season with a 14th European Tour title and a long overdue 23rd career victory.

The current world number six will face a stiff challenge in Scotland from six other former European number ones – Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Robert Karlsson, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer.

McIlroy, 28, who last tasted success at the 2016 Tour Championship on the PGA Tour, is seeking to keep alive a proud record of having won at least one tournament a year since 2009.

McIlroy arrived in Scotland after finishing as runner-up at last week's British Masters near Newcastle, in northeast England, and said he does not feel under pressure.

"Finishing second last week at the British Masters was probably the best I've played all year," said McIlroy. "So, the good thing this is the last event of the season."

"Sometimes your best isn't quite good enough to get the win," he added. "A bit like last week. If someone had said to me 'you're going to shoot 17-under-par this week', I would have bitten their hand off on Thursday morning thinking that's going to get the job done, and it didn't quite get there."

McIlroy is playing the Dunhill Links for the first time since 2014 and will team up with his father Gerry in the pro-am team format.

"It's nice to be back," he said. "Nice to be able to play a few rounds with my dad.

"The Dunhill has always been a great week, it's always been a very enjoyable week. I've always seemed to play well here probably because of sort of the relaxed atmosphere that there is. It's nice to go and play the different courses and get back at night."

England's Tyrrell Hatton, who won the event by four shots a year ago for his first Tour title, has again teamed up with Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan.

"Jamie and I had good fun last year and it's having a bit of chemistry, if you like, is what this event is about and try and having a bit of a laugh," said Hatton.

"I feel that helped me the four days last year and looking forward to doing that again this year." — AFP