Rory McIlroy will have to do something only Tiger Woods has achieved if he is to become the sixth player to complete a career grand slam at next month’s Masters.
But the Northern Irishman believes a new sense of perspective can help him do precisely that after ending his run of near-misses with a thrilling victory in the Players Championship.
Woods is the only player to have won at Sawgrass and
Augusta National in the same year (2001) and McIlroy needs to repeat the feat to join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen in having won all four major titles.
McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in the Masters in each of the last five years, although 2018’s tie for fifth was part of a string of nine tournaments without a win when playing in the last group in the final round.
Sunday’s victory was achieved from the penultimate pairing but was nevertheless significant for the way McIlroy recovered from a double bogey on the fourth and another dropped shot on the seventh to birdie five of his last 10 holes.
McIlroy’s record in 2019 now reads 4-5-4-2-6-1 in terms of finishing places and the 29-year-old credits his increased maturity and perspective for one of the most consistent spells of his career.
“I think it’s been having a focus over the last six or seven months on my attitude, especially my attitude to golf, and not letting golf define who I am as a person, trying to keep the two things very separate,” McIlroy said.
“One thing that I used to do in the past is let what I shot that day influence who I was or my mood.
“To try and keep those two things very separate is something I’ve worked hard on because who I am as a person isn’t who I am as a golfer, and it took me a while to get to that point where I realised who those two people were.
“So that has been a big thing. And I think that’s been the big difference between the highs and lows of the last few years and the more consistent play, even over the last 12 months.
“I’ve had two wins in the last 12 months, but even the play in between that has been pretty good, top fives, top 10s, given myself a chance most weeks.”
McIlroy’s 15th PGA Tour title has lifted him to fourth in the world rankings and made him favourite for the Masters, but domestic duties will ensure the four-time major winner keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead,” McIlroy added. “I really want to enjoy this.
“I’ve got a week off. I’ve actually got an interior design meeting on Monday morning to pick out some stuff for our new house, so that’s the next port of call.
“I feel like I’ve managed the first six tournaments of the year very well, even with some noise around me, whether it is, ‘He can’t close, he can’t play on Sundays, blah, blah, blah’.
“I’ve just got to do my thing, and if I go and I concentrate on me, control what I can do, good golf and good attitude takes care of the rest.
“I’ve started the second phase of my career. I’ve learned a lot in the last 10-11 years and feel I can make the next 10-11 years even better,” he said.
“It’s a massive win on a course on which I’ve had mixed results. I had to show a lot of character out there.
“I’m just really proud of myself the way I played the last few holes.
I kept telling myself on the way to the 17th tee, just make three more good swings, that’s all you need to do and this thing is yours.
“To step up and make those three good swings, it’s very satisfying knowing that it’s in there when it needs to be.
“And if I go to Augusta with a similar golf game to what I have now and the attitude I’ve shown over the first few weeks of the year, I think I’ll have a great chance.”