Rory McIlroy ready to play Open

SANDWICH, England -- After 23 days of exhilaration, adulation and celebration, Rory McIlroy is set to get back to the business of playing golf.

Whether his decision to forgo competition in the wake of his U.S. Open victory last month at Congressional was prudent will be judged after his performance at the 140th British Open, which begins Thursday at Royal St. George's.

McIlroy, 22, has been on a nearly three-week victory tour after winning the U.S. Open by eight strokes. The Northern Irishman did venture to Royal St. George's for two practice rounds last week.

"I knew I wouldn't be giving the best of myself or been able to practice or prepare properly," said McIlroy, who had been scheduled to play the French Open two weeks ago. "Every event I go into I want to have a chance to win. I knew my preparation wouldn't have been good enough going into France to have a chance.

"So I thought, you know what, let's just get everything out of the way and make sure that your preparation going into the Open is as good as it could be, and that's really what I've done.

"For me, it's all about preparation. I went into the Masters after three weeks off and shot three pretty good scores there. So it's not a problem to me not playing competitive golf after having a break."

McIlroy is on a run of major success, despite his fourth-round meltdown at the Masters, where he had the 54-hole lead by four strokes and still led going into the back nine before faltering.

Prior to that, he led with four holes to play at the PGA Championship before finishing a shot out of a playoff, and he opened last year's British Open at St. Andrews with a 63, eventually finishing third.

Now he heads into the year's third major championship a virtual rock star, ranked fourth in the world and having pundits describe him as a player who can challenge the records of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

"I didn't realize how much of a fuss it would create or how much of a buzz," he said. "It's been nice. I thought it was great for me to win the U.S. Open, win my first major, and the support that I've had from people back home, from everyone from all over the world, has been pretty overwhelming. It's a very nice feeling to have that support walking onto the golf course."

He should have plenty of that Thursday morning when he tees off with Ernie Els and Rickie Fowler. McIlroy became the fifth straight player from outside the United States to win a major championship and the 11th consecutive different winner of a major dating to 2008.

And if there was any doubt about his preparation for the Open, McIlroy showed none of it.

On Monday evening before heading to Sandwich, McIlroy joined his father, Gerry, for a quiet round near his home at legendary Royal County Down.

"It was just me and him on the golf course, basically no one else, and I played nine holes and he walked around and it just sort of was a really nice moment," McIlroy said. "We did the exact same thing last year going into St. Andrews. It sort of brought back a lot of memories, playing with my dad, long summer nights, teeing off at 5 and sort of getting in at 9."

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.