MAYNOOTH, Ireland -- Rory McIlroy made his Irish Open debut eight years ago at 16. Expectations on him by home fans have only multiplied since then, and he's still struggling to handle them.
McIlroy will start his sixth Irish Open as a pro on Thursday, with a best result of seventh in 2008. Last year, he tied for 10th.
Beside the high public hopes for him and fellow Northern Irishmen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell along with Ireland's Padraig Harrington, second-ranked McIlroy was also feeling under some pressure to capture his first title of the year.
"I've felt suffocated in a couple of Irish Opens, what with the burdens and the expectations to do well," he said at the Carton House course.
"Of course, it's much better having the fans rooting for you and wanting you to do well than people rooting against you, so it's a great privilege to have," he added. "But expectation is going to be the biggest thing I will have to deal with as you want to do so well because also the fans will be wanting me to do well.
"Also, I am looking to enjoy the event and enjoy the spotlight that is on you. That's what I've tried to do playing here the last couple of years and that's to embrace the event and enjoy it, as you don't get the chance to come back here very often and play in Ireland.
"And it's so different to playing other tournaments, as here in Ireland everyone lives every shot with you," he explained. "And if you make a birdie there's a huge roar and if you miss a putt you can hear the disappointment in the crowd."
McIlroy also revealed he will travel to Muirfield for the first time to play a practice round the week before the British Open, which starts on July 18.
McIlroy, who is enduring a bout of hay fever, will play the opening two Irish Open rounds alongside two former winners in Thomas Bjorn (2006) and Shane Lowry (2009). Bjorn captured the event when it was last staged at Carton House.