NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Rory McIlroy wouldn't describe his affection for the Old Course at St. Andrews as love at first sight.
"Hated it," he said last week at the Dunhill Links Championship.
McIlroy first played the Old Course in 2005 when he was 16 playing in the St. Andrews Links Trophy.
"Thought it was the worst golf course I've ever played," he said. "I just stood up on every tee and was like, 'What is the fascination about this place?' But the more you play it and the more you learn about the golf course and the little nuances, you learn to appreciate it. Now it's my favorite golf course in the world."
He's in good company. Bobby Jones was so frustrated in the 1921 British Open that he withdrew on the 11th hole of the third round.
McIlroy shot 69 his first time at St. Andrews.
"But it's nothing to do with the score," McIlroy said. "That's not why I like a golf course. I like courses for lots of different reasons whether you shoot 64 or 74 on them."
Jones went on to win the Open in 1927 at St. Andrews, and he won the British Amateur on the Old Course as part of his Grand Slam in 1930.
McIlroy returned to St. Andrews in 2007 for the Dunhill Links and closed with a 68 to finish third, earning enough money to get his European Tour card at age 18. Three years later, he tied a major championship record with a 63 at St. Andrews (the wind swept him away to an 80 the next day).
"I've just become very comfortable on the Old Course," he said.
McIlroy returns in July to defend his title in the Open.
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