Rory McIlroy at US Open 2012: Highlights, Updates and Review

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 14, 2012

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JUNE 22:  US Open winning golfer Rory McIlroy poses with his trophy on a green at Holywood Golf Club on June 22, 2011 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The 22 year old golfer has returned home to his native Northern Ireland and is giving press interviews and meeting with local supporters.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

McIlroy +4 thru 9 (Leader: Michael Thompson -4 F)

With all the attention on the marquee pairing of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods, it might be easy to forget about the defending champion and his own All-Star group.

Rory McIlroy enters Olympic Club with pressure of his own. Despite four top-three finishes this year, including a win at the Honda Classic, McIlroy knows that his career is now going to be defined by majors.

If he wants to be the future of golf, it means being able to tame some of the most difficult golf courses in the world, and this week provides a suitable test. This will not be Congressional where the playing conditions were almost comically benign compared to past U.S. Opens.

If McIlroy were to become the first golfer since Curtis Strange in 1989 to repeat as champion, he would solidify himself as a true champion and a threat towards greatness.

That journey begins on Thursday when he tees off with Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. All three men have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings at some point in the last 12 months, and each could reclaim that spot with a victory this weekend.

While you cannot win the tournament today, you can most assuredly lose it.

How will McIlroy handle the pressure of being the defending champion?

Let's find out!