Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Rory McIlroy’s five Augusta National practice rounds ahead of this week’s Masters have given him a comfort level and confidence that could pay off with a Masters title and Career Grand Slam.
The 28-year-old from Northern Ireland makes his 10th Masters start Thursday seeking his fifth major title and first Masters green jacket after winning at Bay Hill last month.
“I’m more comfortable. My game is in good shape and I’m confident in it,” McIlroy said. “Feel like I couldn’t come in here with better form. I feel as prepared as I ever have and just excited to hit that first tee shot.”
A McIlroy victory would put him alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen with a career slam — at least one win in each of the four major tournaments.
“You have to embrace and relish the opportunity that is put in front of you and go out and grab it,” McIlroy said. “I’m an avid fan of the history of the game. I know a win here and what that would mean and where that would put me in history alongside some of the greatest that have ever played this game, and that would be mean an awful lot to me.
“But have I to try and clear my head of that and play good golf, hit good golf shots, have good course management, hole putts. If you do that enough times, hopefully… you walk away with something that you’ll have for the rest of your life.”
Seventh-ranked McIlroy, whose most recent major crown came at the 2014 PGA Championship, has avoided a sense of entitlement or certainty about the Masters.
“I never come in here thinking I’ve served my time and this is my turn. Because it’s never your turn,” McIlroy said. “You have to go out and get it. And I’m here this week to earn it all.”
McIlroy has one of the lowest scoring averages in Masters history, but no jacket — yet.
“I play well here. I just haven’t played well enough,” he said. “It’s nice to know I play the course just about as well as anyone. Hopefully this is my week and I can get myself in there and grab it with both hands.”
– ‘Better’ for 2011 flop –
McIlroy entered the last round of the 2011 Masters with a four-shot lead but fired an 80 to squander the title — a learning experience that helped him win his next major, the 2011 US Open.
“I feel like it made me a better player. I feel like it made me a better person. It definitely was a character builder,” McIlroy said.
“I don’t think I would have had the career I’ve had so far if it wasn’t for that day. So I think it was very important.”
Some omens portend McIlroy success. He’s the same age as Arnold Palmer when the legend won his first Masters 60 years ago. And he’s in his 10th Masters just as Hogan and Sam Snead were when they won their first Masters.
“There’s loads of different numbers you could throw around,” McIlroy said. “But it’s all really meaningless unless you go out there and actually do it.”
– ‘Too much respect’ –
To that end, McIlroy seeks a stronger start. The only time he broke 70 to open the Masters was in ill-fated 2011.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve given this golf course a little too much respect,” McIlroy said. “You don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself to start off fast, but you want to be there after the first couple of days.
“I’ve gotten in my way here before but because I’m a little more comfortable on the course and in my game, I don’t think that will happen this week.”
That means putting well and McIlroy did that at Bay Hill.
“I feel like everything’s coming together very nicely,” McIlroy said. “I feel as good as I have with the putter for quite a while. Just thinking less about it, not trying as hard, being a little more instinctive and reactive.”