RORY McIlroy has begun his Open preparations early in an attempt to turn his latest frustrations to his advantage.

The world number four has been dogged by form and fitness issues this year and he heads into the Open at Royal Birkdale this week after missing three cuts in his last four events.

His latest setback came as he was eliminated prematurely at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open on Friday.

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In an attempt to make the most of a difficult situation, the Northern Irishman has used his unplanned free weekend to travel to the Southport links early for extra practice.

The 28-year-old said: “Look, I’d still like to be up in Scotland playing, of course, but if it gives me a couple of extra days to learn this golf course then I don’t really mind.

“I am excited. It is the Open championship, one of the biggest events of the year. I feel like my game is not far away. I feel like over the next few days I can get a bit of work in and be ready to go on Thursday.”

The Open has brought the best out of McIlroy in the past, most obviously the last time the event was held on Merseyside three years ago, when he won by two strokes at Royal Liverpool.

He said: “To get the win in 2014 and get my name on the Claret Jug was a huge step in my career, and a huge step in me feeling a complete player.

“It was the third leg of the grand slam — I’m still waiting for the fourth one — but I love the Open, I love the fans.

“I love that it’s Sunday and there are a few people following me already. It’s always a week I look forward to.”

McIlroy’s game has been hampered by rib and back problems this year. He is now playing pain-free, but admits his issues are not fully resolved.

He said: “I am feeling okay, but it is something I am going to have to manage until the end of the year.

“It is good enough to play, it is good enough to practise a little bit. I hit balls for an hour-and-a-half last night, but then felt stiff and said, ‘That’s enough’. But at least I know when enough is.

“I am just going to manage the load for the rest of the season, then I am just going to have a nice rest period when I don’t have to touch a club and let it heal. Then hopefully I’ll be 100 per cent for next year.

“It’s not as if I’m far off now, but it is just something I have to be mindful of for now.”

Meanwhile, Danny Willett, another player plagued by injury troubles, has admitted he may need painkillers to get him through next week’s Open.

The 2016 Masters champion has pulled out of three of his last five events due to a back injury, including last month’s US Open and the Irish Open just over a week ago.

The 29-year-old Yorkshireman said: “We’ve had a full week off resting with the back, so we’ll see.

“We’ve just played 18 and it’d didn’t feel too bad. I’ll play nine in the next couple of days and hopefully it’ll be all right. It’s the Open Championship. You need to come here, even if you have to get a few drugs inside you to get through the week.”