Defending McIlroy has sights set on top spot at U.S. Open

After demolishing the field at the U.S. Open last year, Rory McIlroy admits he’s raised the expectations he has for himself on a weekly basis. Just finishing toward the top of the leaderboard simply isn’t good enough anymore. As for his expectations for throwing out the first pitch at Tuesday night’s Giants-Houston Astros game, he brought them down just a bit.

“I definitely would rather get booed at a baseball game than on a golf course,” McIlroy told media at the Olympic Club prior to his trip over to AT&T Park.

McIlroy, who noted the bobblehead of himself that was handed out to Giants fans was “maybe better-looking than me,” survived his foray into baseball, UPDATE WITH PITCH (tossing one high and outside, despite throwing one in the dirt, firing a strike, etc).

Surviving the Olympic Club and defending his title at the Open, which kicks off Thursday, could prove to be a tougher order.

“It’s not easy to do,” Tiger Woods said of winning back-to-back U.S. Opens, something Curtis Strange was the last to do in 1988 and ’89. “This is probably the hardest test that we play all year. What makes it difficult, I think, is that we’re playing different venues each and every year.”

McIlroy enters the week ranked No. 2 in the world and fresh off a solid performance in the St. Jude Classic last week, where he finished in a tie for seventh.

But it hasn’t been all rosy for the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland since his Open romp in 2011 at Congressional Country Club, where he won by a staggering eight strokes and finished a record 16 under par.

He missed the cut in three events prior to the St. Jude and in the year’s first major, the Masters, stumbled his way to a tie for 40th with weekend scores of 77 and 76.

Hardly the desirable results for a major champion who has made winning a much bigger priority.

“You’re not just happy with top-10s anymore and you’re not happy finishing in the top five,” McIlroy said. “OK, it’s a good result, but it’s not what you want.”

But if McIlroy ever starts to waver in the confidence department, he can always fall back on the glory he found last year. It was Open week and it seemed as if he could do no wrong.

“I feel like it’s given me a lot of confidence,” McIlroy said of the Open win. “And I feel like I have a chance in these tournaments every time I tee it up.”

NOTE: Tickets for the Open officially sold out Tuesday, as the remaining spots for Thursday’s opening round were scooped up. It marks the 26th consecutive sell-out for the event, a streak that started at the Olympic Club in 1987.

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