A swoosh in his step as Rory McIlroy eyes Masters glory

When Rory McIlroy steps onto the practice range at Augusta National today he will do so with that bounce in his stride that tells you he is a golfer with everything in place to take the final step on his road to golfing immortality.

A swoosh in his step as Rory McIlroy eyes Masters glory

The Irishman was due to arrive in Augusta last night to renew his bid for the Masters victory that has eluded him in eight attempts and which since 2014 has been the one major title he needs to complete the set and secure the career grand slam only five golfers have achieved.

At the age of 27, with his wedding to Erica Stoll set for later this month and a newly-inked 10-year contract extension with Nike confirmed yesterday, life may not be sweeter for McIlroy.

Yet he has admitted the gap on his sporting cv means it remains incomplete.

“I’d love to say my life is already fulfilled, with everything that’s happened, and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that,” McIlroy told ESPN.

“But if I didn’t have a green jacket, there’d be a tiny piece that would just be missing. I said when I was eight years old that I wanted to be the best golfer in the world and I wanted to win all the Majors. I’ve nearly done all of that. There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”

McIlroy places a lot of store in long-held beliefs and goals and that also in part explains his new deal with the Swoosh, extending a commercial relationship forged in 2013.

“When I go back and look at all my childhood heroes in sports, whether it be Sampras and Agassi, or Tiger, or Ronaldo, Rooney, you know, guys I looked up to in other sports, they all seemed to be associated with Nike,” McIlroy said yesterday.

“I’ve loved this company since I was a kid,” he said yesterday. “I’m really happy to continue this journey and I can’t wait for the next 10 years.”

The deal is a boost for the sportswear manufacturer, which announced last August it would no longer be producing golf clubs, bags or balls.

It means McIlroy will continue to wear its clothing, shoes and caps, maintaining a prominent position on the body of one of sport’s highest-profile athletes.

Whether it will be enough to get McIlroy over the line at Augusta National on Sunday is another matter and the Irishman’s 2010 Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie believes that could come down to how well the world number two starts the tournament on Thursday.

“When Rory McIlroy gets three or four ahead, he generally gets five, six, seven ahead. He plays his best golf when he is free and easy, and yet on that first tee on Thursday, he will be tight,” Montgomerie said.

“I mean, there’s not many people have won all four majors, and this is the last one in his career to try and to achieve it, so he can’t be that way.

“What Rory has to do is go out on Thursday and score in the 60s.

“If he can do that and get into this and then let freedom take over; if Rory goes out and scores 72, 73, 74, then the pressure is really on him, and I don’t think he’s going to do it.

“The one thing I worry about with Rory’s game is holing out. When you think about the holers-out that he’s competing against: the likes of Dustin Johnson this year; the likes of Matsuyama this year; Jordan Spieth springs to mind; Rickie Fowler; Jon Rahm; is he good enough on the greens over four days to finally win the Masters?

“Because that’s what really this tournament is all about is who can hole out those seven-, eight-footers on a consistent basis.

“That’s the fear I have with Rory.”

McIlroy will block out that sort of noise. He played practice rounds at Augusta National last week and in not arriving until last night avoided the worst of the week’s weather, when play was suspended for more than 90 minutes around midday yesterday due to a thunderstorm and lightning that produced heavy rainfall and forced the evacuation of the property to the disappointment of tens of thousands of ticket holders.

After a brief resumption of practice, play was then called for the day at around 2:15pm local time when the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for the area as visibility on the practice range was reduced to a few feet amidst the squalling rain.

With today’s forecast promising sunny weather and highs of 30 degrees Celsius, McIlroy will be pleased to find a course softened by yesterday’s heavy rainfall.

With more wet weather forecast for tomorrow, the Masters may well be played in the sort of conditions that suited McIlroy so well at Congressional in 2011 when he romped to the US Open victory that was the first of his four majors to this point.

That of course, followed his greatest disappointment, the final-round 80 here that derailed his Masters bid and reduced that familiar bounce to a dejected trudge.

The hope will be the spring in McIlroy’s step will be prolonged just a little longer this Sunday.

More in this section

Ireland's Top 10 Hidden Gems

Ten of the best golf courses in Ireland that too few people know about.

Read Here

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox