NEW Open champion Rory McIlroy will almost certainly warm up for his Claret Jug defence in East Lothian next July.
After claiming the third leg of a career Grand Slam at Hoylake, he revealed the Scottish Open at Gullane is already in his sights.
McIlroy used this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management-sponsored event as a key part in his preparations for the game’s old major.
It paid dividends as the 25-year-old held off Spanish star Sergio Garcia and American ace Rickie Fowler to record a two-shot success on Merseyside.
And he is ready to include it on his schedule again next season so that his game is in top-top condition for a title defence at St Andrews.
“At this point, I see no reason why I wouldn’t,” said McIlroy after securing a win that lifted him eight spots to No.2 in the world.
“Playing four competitive rounds of links golf at the Scottish Open in Aberdeen really helped [at Hoylake] as I felt very comfortable with the golf course so I’ll be doing it in the future.
“Gullane is not too far from St Andrews – it’s an easy commute, so I don’t see any reason why not at the minute.”
McIlroy was in East Lothian a fortnight ago to open Nike’s new performance fitting centre at Archerfield Links.
And he revealed it had been last year’s Open Muirfield that had provided him with the driving force to claim the Claret Jug.
“Missing the cut at Muirfield last year was a very low point,” he admitted after signing off with a 71 for a 17-under-par total of 271. “I said to myself, ‘I’ll try to never make that happen again’. What a difference a year makes.
“To sit here at 25 with my third major and be three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam is something I never dreamed of at this point in my career.
“The Open Championship was the one you really wanted growing up and the one you holed so many putts to win, beating Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, whoever.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but the more I keep looking at this trophy and seeing my name on it, the more that will start to happen.”
McIlroy, of course, is a certainty for Europe’s Ryder Cup side at Gleneagles and, with each passing week, Stephen Gallacher is improving his chances of being one of the Northern Irishman’s team-mates.
A week after closing with a course-record 63 to finish joint-fourth in the Scottish Open, the Lothians star chalked up a career-best major performance.
Closing with his best round of the week – a four-under 68 – he secured a share of 15th with a total of 280.
It earned him a cheque for £68,667, lifted him two spots to world No.31 but, probably most important at the moment, secured valuable Ryder Cup points.
“This has been my best finish in the Open as well, so I’m delighted,” said Gallacher after finishing as top Scot in the event for the second year running.
“It’s just been about carrying on with the way I have been playing. I’ve been doing well this year, I have managed quite a few breakthroughs and it’s always good to have another at The Open.
“It’s more Ryder Cup points and although I wasn’t really thinking about it, it all helps go towards it.”
He finished with a flourish, picking up three birdies in the final five holes, and is fitting in a family holiday in New York before two more big events.
First up is next week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone then, straight after that, it’s the USPGA Championship at Valhalla.
“I’m confident going into the WGC because I feel comfortable about it. I played Firestone last year and I’ll know more about the pin positions and so on.
“It’s about being more familiar out there and I’ve done pretty well in the PGA a couple of times. I’m looking forward to these events.”
Bonnyrigg-based Jamie McLeary finished ahead of Tiger Woods, picking up a cheque for £13,350 as a closing 70 secured a share of 58th.
“That will be nice to tell my little boy [Coben] when he grows up and decides to pick up the sticks,” grinned the 33-year-old. “It’s cool to beat the best player who has ever played the game, in my opinion anyway.”