The 27-year-old will go into next week’s Masters making his third attempt to secure a career Grand Slam of all four majors and in doing so join the game’s legends, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Motivation has not been the stumbling block, however.
The four-time major champion needs no greater incentive than matching the feats of the game’s best exponents.
Rather it is McIlroy’s inability to string together four consistently good rounds at Augusta National that has prevented him from adding to his haul of two PGA Championships, the US Open and Open titles since 2011.
Furthermore, the Irishman understands better than anyone that the clock is ticking and that each time he returns to Augusta without a place in the champions’ locker room the pressure will keep ratcheting upwards.
“It’s a motivation, to be able to put your name alongside those five guys,” McIlroy told Masters.com.
“But I think each and every year that passes that I don’t, it will become increasingly more difficult.
“I sort of feel a little bit like what Phil (Mickelson) goes through when he goes to the US Open, but at the same time I haven’t finished second at Augusta six times and he’s finished second (six times in the US Open).
“So I can only imagine what goes through his head when he turns up at a US Open.
McIlroy will get to Augusta National after a build-up truncated by the fractured rib that kept him sidelined between mid-January and early March.
He had been in flying form beforehand, finishing off his 2016 season by winning the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour, his 22nd career victory.
Aside from his early exit at last week’s WGC-Dell Match Play, his return to competition has brought top-10 finishes at the WGC-Mexico Championship and Bay Hill.
His previous Masters finishes point to a winner in waiting, with his most recent starts producing a tie for eighth in 2014, fourth a year later and tie for 10th 12 months ago.
Yet McIlroy has carded just one opening round in the 60s, a 65 in 2011, the year that saw him lead by four shots after 54 holes, only for that final-round 80 to cruelly dash his hopes.
“I think it’s imperative to get off to a great start here, a good start. You look at a lot of Masters champions in the past, they have been right up there from the first day,” he said.
“I think it’s important to get a good 36 holes under your belt and play well.”
Last year’s opening rounds of 70-71 placed McIlroy just one shot off the lead at halfway, only to shoot a birdie-free, third-round 77 to fall out of contention, his closing 71 pushing him into a share of 10th.
“I was in a great position going into the weekend, and I just didn’t play the golf I needed to when it really mattered.“
I’ve been in position before and I haven’t got the job done when I needed to and I don’t think that’s anything to do with my game, I think that’s more me mentally and I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen.”
McIlroy admitted his Saturday 77 last year was a result of his caution.
“That’s not the way I play,” he said.
“And it’s almost as if I need to go out here and not respect the golf course as much, to go out there and not really care where I miss it or where I don’t miss it.
"Everyone talks about at Augusta you need to miss it here, you need to miss it there, it’s all about your misses, but I would rather hit it right on line than miss in the right place.
“I feel like I’m a good enough player; I feel like I’ve got everything I need to become a Masters champion. It’s the biggest tournament of the year for me, for obvious reasons, and I’ve never made any secret about that.
“I’m playing against the same guys that I’ve beaten before at the biggest tournaments in the world and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it again.
“So that’s my mindset going into it. If I can keep that mindset and try to just keep it as simple as possible, and keep it fun, I think that’s the thing as well, if I can keep it somewhat fun: you’re going and playing Augusta, you’re getting to play Augusta, you’re getting to play at least six rounds around there. Who else gets to do that? That’s pretty cool in itself.”