Shane Lowry admits the one-year delay to the defence of his Open title – and even the Covid-19 "bubble" – could work in his favour at Royal St George’s.
Lowry cruised to a six-shot victory at Royal Portrush in 2019 and had the Claret Jug in his possession until Monday morning after last year’s Open was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With cases again on the rise the R&A recently informed players that the 149th Open will "operate under strict government oversight", with guidelines which prohibit players from going to bars, restaurants and supermarkets during tournament week.
They also have to stay in either approved hotels or private accommodation, which can be shared between up to four members of their team, although not with other players.
"It’s a bubble, but I don’t think I’ll be doing anything different than I normally do," Lowry said. "I come to the golf course, I play and I go home and we have dinner in the house, and that’s it. You don’t do anything else the week of big tournaments.
"You’re kind of resting up as much as you can, and you’re obviously here playing and practising all day, every day when you’re here.
"I reckon if it was a normal Open and I was defending I might have a couple more things to do, so it probably is working in my favour a little bit as regards my performance."
Lowry missed the cut in three of his first five events when the PGA Tour resumed following the coronavirus shutdown last year, including in the Memorial Tournament in the week when the Open should have been held.
Twelve months on, the 34-year-old comes into the event on the back of a tie for fourth in the US PGA Championship, another top-10 finish in the Memorial Tournament and a tie for 23rd in the Irish Open after a closing 66.
"I look back on 2020 as a season and, without making excuses too much, not playing in front of fans doesn’t do it for me," Lowry added. "That’s just the way it is.
"I struggled last year coming out of lockdown. I was playing great. I’ve never played as much golf in my life, and I just was stale when I got out there. I just couldn’t get it going.
"Even little things like if you’re struggling to make a cut or if you’re down at the bottom of the field, having people out there on the golf course kind of spurs you on a little bit.
"At the end of the day we’re kind of in the entertainment business when we’re out here out there and when I have a difficult shot or when I’m stuck behind a tree or I have a tough up-and-down, I’m trying to almost show off a little bit.
"I feel like 2020 is a bit of a write-off for me. Obviously my form is pretty decent coming in this year and I’m really looking forward to the week ahead.
"I hope that I can be competitive. I’d like to put up a good defence of my trophy and I’d give anything to have a chance to win come the weekend. I’m out there planning for that over the next few days, and we’ll see how it goes.
"I’ve defended tournaments before, but I’ve never come and defended a tournament of this magnitude. But at the end of the day it’s another golf tournament, it’s another major.
"I’ve got a lot more on my mind, a lot more to play for than just defending the trophy. I’ll be happy to get that first tee shot away, and if you’ve seen the rough down the first hole, I’ll be even happier if it’s on the fairway."
Former champion Zach Johnson will not be in the field this week after he, and South Africa’s Louis De Jager, tested positive for Covid-19.
American Ryan Moore also pulled out of the year’s final major due to a back injury, taking the total number of withdrawals so far to 16.
Adam Long, Sam Horsfield and Dylan Frittelli are now in the field, with Wade Ormsby, Matthieu Pavon and Ross Fisher next on the reserve list.
Johnson, who won the Masters in 2007, lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2015 following a play-off with Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.
Reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and two-time winner Bubba Watson withdrew on Sunday due to Covid-19, along with 2001 Open champion David Duval.
No reason was given for Duval’s withdrawal but the 49-year-old did shoot 91, 78 at Portrush two years ago.