McIlroy ready to defend at US Open

It has been a curious last few weeks for Rory McIlroy as he prepares to achieve what no man has done in 23 years -- successfully defend the US Open.

The last man to do so was Curtis Strange in 1989, but such was the convincing manner of the Northern Irishman's eight-stroke victory at Congressional last year, that many believed he was capable of back-to-back wins.

Three missed cuts in recent tournaments though have cast doubts on his current form. Although he showed improved form at the St Jude Classic in Memphis last week, a poor finish was not the best way to come into The Olympic Club.

The 23-year-old world number two believes that getting in the extra tournament play ahead of the year's second major -- when he's usually taking time off to prepare -- fits the bill this time around.

"It's not like it was my fourth tournament in a row and I've been in contention for four weeks in a row and it drains you and takes a lot out of you mentally and physically," he said.

"The first couple of weeks of that stretch I had the weekend off, where I was just on the range hitting balls. So I feel fresh.

"I feel like I had a great four days up here, the weekend of Memorial and before Memphis and got some really good work done here.

"And I felt like as soon as I got to Memphis I was straight into the tournament, so I wasn't waiting around for it. I feel like it's worked out well for me."

Prior to Memphis, McIlroy spent some time getting pointers from golf legend Jack Nicklaus and he also spent a few days testing the changes made to the tough Olympic Club layout in San Francisco.

Asked if he agreed with some of the players who rate the par-70 course as one of the most difficult US Open venues in years, McIlroy replied: "I'm not sure, I've only played three.

"Congressional and Bethpage were very similar (to each other), they were both very wet, long, tree lined, parklike golf courses.

"This is a little more similar to Pebble (Beach). It has that feeling about it, just with being on the coast and sort of the cool air and stuff.

"I'm not sure it will be quite as difficult as Pebble was a couple of years ago, but it's going to be a tough test."

One player who believes that McIlroy made the correct decision in playing in the Memphis tournament is Tiger Woods, who has also blown hot and cold this year.

The world number four, who is bidding to join Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson as the only four-time US Open champions, said that McIlroy would gain in confidence from his showing last week.

"He had a few weeks where he didn't play the way that he knows he can play. But, hey, we all have those things happen," he said.

"But last week was good for his confidence. He did some work at home, from what I hear, and went into Memphis and played great. It's going to serve him well this week."

McIlroy will have one other duty to perform before he tees off on Thursday in the company of fellow Brits, world number one Luke Donald and number three Lee Westwood.

He has agreed to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the San Francisco Giants home baseball game against the Houston Astros on Tuesday evening.

It's a prospect that does not daunt him too much.

"I definitely would rather get booed at a baseball game than on a golf course," he said.