ARDMORE, Pa. -- At some point, Rory McIlroy says, he wants to get into the city of Philadelphia so he can do one thing …
Run up the Art Museum steps like Rocky Balboa.
“I was half thinking of going to the steps in the city -- the Rocky steps -- wherever they are and run up them,” McIlroy said during his media availability for the U.S. Open at Merion East Golf Club.
As far as touristy things to do go, perhaps Philadelphians will catch McIlroy at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall or even Pat’s at 2 a.m. for a cheesesteak.
More likely, though, McIlroy will be front and center when the tournament begins on Thursday, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. That’s the top three-ranked golfers in the world playing together for the first two rounds at Merion.
With any luck, McIlroy hopes to be playing with Woods or Scott in the last group on Sunday.
“It's something that wasn't too much of a surprise. The guys at the USGA have done it quite a few times before,” McIlroy said. “It's always nice to be a part of a group like that. Something that I'm excited about. It's a good thing. I like it because you're in a group like that there's a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it and it gets you focused from the first shot.
“Teeing off on Thursday afternoon, there's obviously going to be a lot of attention on that group and it's just nice to be a part of it.”
A winner of two majors, including a record-breaking performance at the 2011 U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club outside of Washington, D.C., McIlroy could very well remain in the spotlight come Sunday. A lot of that has to do with the condition of the golf course. The heavy rain that has hit the region has turned the grounds at Merion soft. That means the course will be easier and scores will be lower.
Often the U.S. Open is a war of attrition in which the winner is the last man left unbroken by the extreme rough and slick putting surfaces. But the rain takes control away from the course and gives it back to the players.
When McIlroy won in 2011 with the record-breaking score of 268 (16-under), the rain played a major role.
He expects the play at Merion to be very similar.
“I didn't really enjoy the [the 2012 U.S. Open at the] Olympic Club last year. I much prefer this sort of golf, I guess,” McIlroy said. “When you hit a shot and it doesn't bounce one way or the other, when you hit it and it stays where you think it's going to stay. There's still not going to be that many birdies out here. You've still got to hit it on the fairway. It's still a pretty tight golf course. So when you do get it in the rough, you're not going to make birdies out of there. So you're going to have chances, but you're going to have some holes where it's going to be very difficult.
“I expect the scores to be a little lower than what they would be if the course was a little firmer and drier, but I don't think you'll see scores like the scores that were shot at Congressional a couple of years ago.”
Maybe not yet, but the course could become even more water logged.
Forecasters are predicting more rain for Thursday. However, it doesn’t hurt that McIlroy feels confident about his game. In fact, McIlroy pointed out, his game might be in better shape heading into this week’s Open than it was when he won at Congressional.
“I guess that the two majors that I've won I've sort of come in a little bit like that, with low expectations,” McIlroy said. “I feel like coming into the U.S. Open this year, my game's in much better shape than it was last year. I came off the back of three missed cuts in a row and I wasn't playing very well. And this year I feel like my game is actually in good shape. So I feel coming in this year I've got a way better chance than I did last year.”
McIlroy doesn’t need to play alongside of Woods and Scott to get noticed. Chances are the gregarious 24-year old from Northern Ireland would have a large gallery following him around regardless of who he was lined up with.
Better yet, maybe Woods is happy that McIlroy will take some of the attention.
“I think it will be fantastic. I was part of that the first time they did it in ’08 and it was very electric out there,” Woods said. “Normally we don’t get those types of pairings very often. When you do it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”