Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round ahead of The Open
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round ahead of The Open Image Credit: Reuters

No more balls to be in hit in practice and no more conversations about course management, tactics, the weather or the like.

Thursday sees the first ball struck in anger at 6.35am local time in Kent (9.35am UAE).

Rory McIlroy is paired with American Patrick Reed and Australia’s Cameron Smith, with a tee time at 3.21pm Sandwich time.

I have been with Rory McIlroy just over three-and-a-half months in an official coaching role and with him 16 years in an unofficial coaching role since I first came across him as the Irish national coach when he was just a 14 year-old kid.

The media attention during a week like The Open for someone like Rory is hard to comprehend from outside the ropes.

Even I am overwhelmed with the interest, demands and all the distractions he has to manage on a daily basis.

In the 11 Opens Rory has played in his career to date, he has one win, five top-five finishes and a couple of missed cuts.

Let me talk you through Rory’s final few days of preparations for one of the biggest week’s of the year.

Rory has not hit too many balls this week, but he has played the golf course a lot, which is unusual.

He will have played the equivalent of about four 18-hole practice rounds, which must be the most of any player in the 156-strong field.

He is in a good place mentally, but as we all know everyone needs a bit of luck at the right time to keep up the positive momentum vital during such a demanding week.

My housemate for the week, English player Nicholas Poppleton has a 4.16pm tee time and is last off in Round 1 alongside Rikard Karlberg of Sweden and Japan’s Ryotaro Nagano.

Nicholas practises at our range in Rotherham and is coached by my main teaching guy at home, Nick Huby. Huby also looks after left-hander Sam Bairstow, one of the amateurs in this week’s field.

We were chatting today with Nicholas about what he will do all day until his start time. He plans to watch some golf on TV, hit some balls in the morning, have some lunch, hit more balls in the afternoon and then get out there.

I told Nicholas to conserve his energy as playing in The Open is always mentally draining, whether it is your first time or your 12th like Rory.

My prediction for the winning score is my lucky number, 13 under par.

With a drying wind that does not seem to be forecast to be too strong at any time, and reasonably generous fairways that are not hard and running (yet!), it appears to be a fair test for all, but you never know if some will be lucky or unlucky, depending on what side of the draw they are placed.

Why is 13 my lucky number? It always has been. When I won my first tournament, the 1976 Zambian Open, my locker number was 13 and every day, as a result of weather delays, by coincidence, my tee time for all four days was at 1pm — 13:00.

One final piece of trivia from that win was that the legendary, now retired, Tour chief referee John Paramor was there and his first job on Tour was to interview me after my win. Look where we both ended up after 45 years! Happy memories!

My players tee times for Round 1 on Thursday are as below (local time):

7.19am: Danny Willett
7.52am: Ian Poulter
8.03am: Brooks Koepka
9.03am: Gary Woodland
9.25am: Branden Grace
9.47am: Victor Perez
11.47am: Jazz Janewattananond
12.42pm: Padraig Harrington
1.04pm: Matt Fitzpatrick
3.21pm: Rory McIlroy
3.32pm: Henrik Stenson

A long day for yours truly on the range from first light to the end of the day for the first two rounds at least. Hopefully all the hard work put in over the years by all my players and some by myself will all be worthwhile.

I am staying all week at The Open so I will be around for all four rounds which I rarely do at tournaments these days.

To all my friends in the UAE, the Middle East, in Rotherham and around the world, enjoy this very special week.