Grand Slam-chasing Rory McIlroy 'under the radar' for Masters
With the focus set to be on man of the moment Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy has a chance to go "under the radar" when he bids to become just the sixth player to complete golf's career grand slam in next week's Masters.
McIlroy is preparing for his sixth attempt to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the elite club, having tried various different approaches heading into the Augusta National event.
Last year, for instance, his routine consisted of meditation, juggling and mind training as he took steps to "do all the stuff to get yourself in the right place”. That didn't work, with the Northern Irishman never getting in the hunt as Tiger Woods claimed his fifth Green Jacket.
For this latest attempt, McIlroy's game has been spluttering a bit since golf came out of a COVID-19 lockdown, but, according to former US Open champion Andy North, there are other things that could work in his favour next week.
"I would think with Rory, coming in here, he's got to be in a really happy mind spot right now: new father, figuring all that out," said North, speaking during a teleconference in his role as one of ESPN's analysts for the event, of Poppy Kennedy McIlroy's arrival in the world at the end of August.
"The golf course is also going to play a little bit softer, which I think plays right into Rory's hands. It's not just being able to hit the ball a long way there, but being able to carry it a long way and he does that as well as anybody.
"And maybe he'll come in under the radar a little bit, and here is a guy who has a chance with a grand slam and I'm betting we won't have a whole lot of those stories written next week.
"There will be a lot of other things, Bryson and Dustin [Johnson, the world No 1] and some of these other guys. He might come in there feeling really good that he's under the radar and got nothing to lose and just go out and play."
Two-time US Open winner Curtis Strange, another ESPN analyst, believes the event being played in November rather than April might also play into McIlroy's hands. He certainly hopes so, making no secret of his admiration for the four-time major winner.
"I'm such a huge fan of that young man for a lot of different reasons, but his golf game is incredible," said Strange. "You try not to root for anybody, but I think we all root for him a little bit because you would have thought he would have had a Green Jacket by now. That's not a knock; that's just the way golf is.
"Put it this way: if there's a week that I think he can win, it's Augusta because of the set up of the golf course, the way he plays the game, but you still have to get it done.
"Maybe being under the radar can help him this week, maybe playing in November. But I think he's such a poster child for a champion of Augusta National the way he plays."
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