Last time out, at Muirfield in Scotland, McIlroy endured a miserable start, shooting 79 on the opening day and describing himself as "brain dead" in a typically frank press conference immediately after.

It was one of the low points in a slump that saw him relinquish the world No. 1 ranking and fend off persistent questions as to whether his equipment deal with Nike had disrupted his game.

And though he missed the cut after a round of 75 on the second day, he took some valuable lessons from his playing partner on the opening two days, and eventual winner, Phil Mickelson.

"I played with Phil Mickelson for two rounds at Muirfield last year and I was really impressed with the way he controlled his ball flight," McIlroy said.

"He was bouncing balls into the green, getting the ball on the ground as soon as possible and I feel that's something I need to do more of.

"Back when I was an amateur I was used to playing links golf much more so you are much more comfortable playing those shots.

"Now as a pro most weeks you're playing everything through the air and trying to adapt your game for these two weeks a year.

"That's why I'm going to try and practice those shots so when the time comes I'm comfortable with them."

McIlroy does have some memories of the course at Hoylake, having played there as a teenager, but they can't be classed as fond ones.

"I actually played at Hoylake in 2003 in the British boys as a 14-year-old and got beaten in the first round," he said.

"That was the first and last time I have played the course. It's quite a flat golf course. I like the bunkering -- the faces look at you off the tee so you have a good visualization and good definition of where you need to hit the ball round there.

"I remember watching The Open in 2006 and how hot and burnt it was, Tiger (Woods) taking an iron off every tee and going on to win.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it again. I think it's a course from what I remember should set up pretty well for me depending on the conditions."

As he rekindles his love for golf, another important relationship in McIlroy's personal life has also deepened.

He and Jack Nicklaus -- the greatest golfer of all time with 18 majors to his name -- are neighbors in Florida, and McIlroy is a member at the 74-year-old's Bear's Club.

And that means McIlroy has the ear of one of the most important opinions in the game.

"Jack has always been so generous with his time, we've formed quite a nice friendship over the last few years," he explained.

"Being a member of his club in Palm Beach we've talked a lot. Most of the time it's about golf and how to handle certain situations. The (most recent) meeting was how he manages his time.

"All the things he had to manage on the course and still dedicate himself to his game. Finding a balance in life in a way.

"It's always nice to spend some time with him, if nothing else it inspires you to go out and be better, practice and be a better player.

"I think he gets me and I do too. A lot of the things he says really make sense."