"There's a spark missing" - But can Rory McIlroy suddenly turn it on at The Open?

Alan Shipnuck and Lawrence Donegan join Off The Ball to preview the action at Royal Birkdale

BY Raf Diallo 20:28 Wednesday 19 July 2017, 20:28 19 Jul 2017

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy during a press conference on practice day four of The Open Championship 2017 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport. Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

With showers and strong winds expected, the conditions for The Open Championship will be tough this time around.

But on the other hand, the Royal Birkdale course appears to be popular with the challengers thus far on the eve of the tournament.

Who is leading the charge? Can Rory McIlroy recapture his best form? Sports Illustrated senior writer Alan Shipnuck and golf writer Lawrence Donegan teamed up on Off The Ball to consider those issues and more.

"If every golfer in the world plays their absolute best, Rory's best is better than anyone's. I don't think there's any doubt about that," said Shipnuck on McIlroy, adding that "we haven't really seen that in three years".  

Off The Ball's John Duggan is at Royal Birkdale and he's got a taste of the course and conditions as he explained on the Newsround:

Shipnuck continued: "You have to wonder, can Rory access that gift with all the putting problems he's had, all of the course things that's gone and does he still want to grind the way these other guys are? I mean, whether it's Dustin Johnson or Jordan Spieth, these guys are chasing greatness really hard. They're trying to get to where Rory already is and if you take your foot off the gas pedal, even a little bit, you're going to get passed by.

"I think there's no question about Rory's talents but there's a spark missing. I don't know whether it's physical with some of the setbacks he's had, whether it's emotional - if he can't find that drive and determination he's always had. There's obviously been something missing. We can see that in his scores and we can see that in the disengaged look on his face when he's out there playing. It's hard to flip a switch, even for a guy like Rory. I mean, he's done it in the past but when you're getting your teeth kicked in month after month like he has been this year, I don't think you can assume he's going to find it this week because he wants to."    

Shipnuck also rated the chances of pre-tournament favourite Jordan Spieth's chances as well as the other challengers who will be expected to be in contention and Padraig Harrington who won at this course in 2008.

You can listen to the full Open preview on the podcast player below or stream/download on iTunes

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