- Rory McIlroy relieved less hype surrounds him going into this year's British Open
- McIlroy arrived as U.S. Open winner in 2011 and struggled to cope with attention
- World No. 2 confident he is nearing his best form as he goes into 2012's third major
- Phil Mickelson hoping to improve on his second place at Royal St. George's last year
As the British Open reached its climax 12 months ago, a weather beaten Rory McIlroy cut a frustrated figure, as he aimed a few barbs at the tournament many consider to be golf's greatest.
Coming into the championship off the back of his maiden major victory, at the U.S. Open, McIlroy finished tied for 25th and struggled to adapt to the changeable conditions on Kent's south coast.
The 23-year-old bemoaned the extent to which he thought the weather affected the outcome and was adamant there was "no point in changing your game for one week a year."
But a year on as he prepares to launch his latest challenge to win the famous Claret Jug, McIlroy has put those comments down to frustration and says this year's build up has been happily free of the vortex of media attention that swirled as fiercely as the wind at Royal St. George's.
"Last year it was complete mayhem so this week it has been lovely just to be able to go about my business and prepare the way I wanted to," he told the Open Championship's official website.
"I have tried to keep it as low key as possible. I wanted to go about my business as quietly as possible and I felt that I have done that pretty well."
And what of those digs aimed at the tournament immediately after his closing round 74?
"Those comments were just pure frustration," he explained. "I had really high expectations coming off a major win. I really wanted to play well but (I didn't and) I ended up blaming the weather, blaming the draw, blaming my luck, basically.
"Looking back on it a year later, I just didn't play well enough to get into contention and didn't handle the conditions as best as I could have."
The Northern Irishman struggled during the defense of his U.S. Open crown at the Olympic Club in San Francisco back in June, but said he was satisfied with his form coming into the third major of the year.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I feel like I'm hitting the ball great. I think it's the best I have swung the club all year. It's going to be all about keeping the ball in play, keeping it out of the bunkers and, if I can do that, I think I have a great chance.
"I'm going to knuckle down, focus and keep fighting. I will stay tough and try to shoot a low score even if the conditions are bad."
McIlroy is one of the favorites for the tournament, as is four-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
The American, known as "Lefty", tied for second behind last year's winner, Darren Clarke, and he told a press conference an ability to play well in poor weather has provided a boost for his confidence.
"I think what was so fun for me about last year was that I was able to make a move in horrible weather, and that's one of the things that has excited me because historically I've not played well in bad weather," he said.
"Now I look at it a little bit differently. And I almost welcome it, in a sense. But I certainly have more confidence in competing and playing in weather and the different challenges that links golf presents after having had some success after last year."
English hopes rest mostly on Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who sandwich McIlroy in the world rankings.
Both are still searching for their first major success and will be heartened to know the last 15 have been won by 15 different players.
World No. 1 Donald struggled at the U.S Open, missing the cut, but says he is confident his game can stand up to the rigors of Lytham having played well at last week's Scottish Open.
"I feel like I did a lot of good work in the last two weeks. And I felt quite comfortable in the competition last week at the Scottish Open. I hit a lot of very solid tee shots, and that's exactly what you need to do around here.
"I do like this course. I think it's set up great. It's very fair, but it's very tough. It's certainly, I think, going to produce the guy who plays the best because there's no escaping some holes; you've just got to step up there and hit good tee shots."
Westwood, the current world No. 3, is hoping he can become the first English winner of an Open on English soil since Tony Jacklin in 1969.
"I'm just going to shake the cards and see where they fall," he told a press conference. "This is the biggest championship in the world for me.
"I'd love to become the first Englishman to win on English soil since Tony (Jacklin) but that's not going to put any extra pressure on me. I'm fairly relaxed. I'm always pretty relaxed nowadays. There's not a lot that winds me up."