Ireland’s world number three will attempt to complete golf career Grand Slam this weekend by adding the Masters to his victories at the US Open, Open, and PGA Championships. He knows he has the game and the talent to win here and admitted yesterday he was surprised the opening major of the year was the final piece of a puzzle previously completed only by Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Yet this will be his eighth attempt at taming the course over four rounds that is best suited to those talents and though last year’s four-place finish behind Jordan Spieth was his best result at the Masters, McIlroy knows his best opportunity came four years earlier in 2011, when he blew a four-shot 54-hole lead by shooting a final-day 80 and finish up in a tie for 15th place.
“I feel like I’m a good enough player. I feel like I’ve got everything I need to become a Masters champion,” McIlroy said yesterday. “But I think each and every year that passes that I don’t, it will become increasingly more difficult. So there’s no time like the present to get it done.”
McIlroy’s approach to this year’s Masters certainly points to a golfer determined to get his act together at Augusta National. The Irishman decided not to visit the course in advance of tournament week for fear of over-preparing, since arriving on Monday he has been practising with just one ball in play and he will forego today’s more relaxed Par Three Contest in order to play nine practice holes ahead of his opening round which will tee off tomorrow at 7.01pm Irish time.
He even aced the par-three 16th in practice on Monday but seemed as pleased with the 3 and 2 victory it secured over Chris Wood as the hole in one itself. All that he is missing is an early-season tournament victory to send his confidence soaring into the opening major of the year.
A closing 75 at Doral last month denied him victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship while three weeks later an excellent performance from tee to green at the WGC Dell Match Play was eclipsed by Jason Day’s superior short game in the semi-finals of his title defence.
“My game feels good. It’s all about going out there over the next four days and executing the shots the way I need to and being mentally strong.
“I probably feel a little bit more subdued going in this time because I maybe haven’t had the win this year but I feel like my game is right there, so I feel good.”
The career Slam appears to be less of an issue for McIlroy than last year when his quest for the set dominated all the pre-Masters chatter, although he said he was surprised to have mopped up the other three before the one he appears most suit to win.
“This is one I wish I caught earlier I guess, I had a chance. Yeah, looking at the set-up of the others, I always thought the PGA Championship and my record through the PGA Championship is the one that I excel in because of the way the golf course is set up and the type of golf courses that they go to.
“I never thought the US Open would be the first one just because of the way they usually get that, the week that I won at Congressional, it wasn’t really like a US Open. It was more like a PGA Championship type.
“But here, I’ve got a great game for here. I hit it high. I can land the ball soft. I’ve got decent touch around the greens. The only thing that’s probably held me back in my career and here is putting. You would think that this was a golf course that I can definitely win on here, I know that. I just haven’t quite been able to get myself over the hurdle.
“To be only one of six people to do it, I feel like I’ve set myself apart from definitely the guys that are playing here this week. Obviously Phil (Mickelson) has a chance to do that when he goes to the US Open, as well.
“It’s something that I’d obviously be very proud of and something that I feel would set me apart. But there’s a lot of golf to be played before that and a lot of talking to be done and a lot of bad bounces and good bounces and lip-outs and everything.
“So we’ll see what happens over the next few days.”