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What a difference a year makes for Holywood great McIlroy

By Tony Jimenez

HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - New British Open champion Rory McIlroy does not do 'dull' but perhaps that is no surprise for a man with a glamorous-sounding birthplace like Holywood.

The tousle-haired kid from Northern Ireland won instant recognition at the age of nine when he was shown on television chipping golf balls into a washing machine.

McIlroy is one of that rare breed who always seemed destined for greatness and his two-shot win at Royal Liverpool on Sunday meant that, at 25, he became the third youngest player in the modern era to land three of the four major championships.

He enjoyed a glittering career as a teenager, reaching the top of the world amateur rankings, before bursting on to the senior stage with a superb opening 68 in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, the only bogey-free round of the day.

McIlroy then finished third in his second event as a professional, at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, before capturing his first European Tour win at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic, aged 19.

More big victories followed, including the 2011 U.S. Open and the U.S. PGA Championship in 2012 when he soared to the top of the world rankings and finished top of the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

He then suffered a serious dip in form after signing a new big-money club deal with Nike last year, was involved in a series of off-the-course wrangles and it needed an important win over Adam Scott at the Australian Open in December to get him back on track.

"I never had doubts," McIlroy told reporters at Hoylake. "You can't doubt your own ability, all I had to do was look back at some of the great tournaments that I played.

"The ability was still there. That wasn't it. It was just trying to find a way to make it come out again."

McIlroy admitted to being "brain dead" when he failed to qualify for the last two rounds of the 2013 British Open.

LOW POINT

"Missing the cut at Muirfield last year was a very low point," he said. "I had never missed a cut at the Open before.

"I said to myself I'll try to never make that happen again. It's been huge what a difference a year makes, I guess."

McIlroy confirmed his renaissance as a top-notch player by winning the European Tour's flagship event in May, the BMW PGA Championship, in the same tumultuous week that he ended his engagement to former world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

"It's turned into a great year," he said. "The win at Wentworth was huge and now getting my third major is a huge step in the right direction.

"There's many more tournaments and many more trophies that I want to win."

The next big target for McIlroy is the U.S. PGA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky in August although he also has Georgia on his mind because he can complete a clean sweep of the majors at the U.S. Masters in Augusta in April.

"I've really found my passion again for golf. Not that it ever dwindled but it's what I think about when I get up in the morning," said the Northern Irishman, who is back up to second in the world rankings with only Australian Scott ahead of him.

"It's what I think about when I go to bed. I just want to be the best golfer that I can be.

"Even though there's still one major left this year that I want to desperately try and win, I am looking forward to next April and trying to complete the career grand slam."

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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