Rory McIlroy will 'try not to be a hero' in bid to land elusive Masters win
Try not to be a hero. That’s the key thought Rory McIlroy will have in his mind as he makes his latest bid to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in golf’s career grand slam club this weekend.
Heading into the rescheduled Masters, the four-time major winner conceded that costly big numbers now and again at Augusta National had been his undoing so far in his attempts to become an owner of one of those Green Jackets.
It’s not McIlroy’s style, of course, to adopt a cautious type of play and that won’t necessarily be the case as he launches his sixth attempt to land that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that separates great from good.
But, in a pre-event press conference at which he came across way more relaxed than he did a year past April, when he was telling us about how he was using meditation and juggling to help fuel his title bid, the 31-year-old talked openly about a new Masters mindset.
“This week, it's take advantage of the holes that you can, play smart on the other ones,” said McIlroy. “If you can do that and think a little bit better and concentrate a little bit more, and just limit your mistakes, that's always a good thing around here.
“You're sort of making sure that you make no worse than a bogey on any hole. That's something that I probably haven't done here that well in the past. I've made a few big numbers, and if you can limit those, yeah, take your medicine, be smart, punch out of trees, not try to be a hero, that all can sort of add up at the end of the week to saving a few shots here and there.”
McIlroy knows he should have landed this event back in 2011, when he let a winning position slip on the back nine in the final round. Three-time champion Phil Mickelson, for one, is adamant that the Northern Irishman will make amends for that eventually, but McIlroy knows he still has to go out and produce the goods when it matters.
“I'd like to think so,” he said when told of Mickelson’s prediction. “But, look, nothing's given in this game. I guess there's no better person to maybe sit down and have a chat with than Phil because he broke through here when he was 34 here for his first major after knocking on the door for a long time. I'm not quite in that scenario, but I'm looking for my first here.
“I've always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well. It's just a matter of, you know, getting out of my own way and letting it happen. But you have to go out and earn it. You can't just rely on people saying that you're going to win one.
“Greg Norman never did. Ernie Els never did. There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a Green Jacket. It's not a foregone conclusion, and I know that. I have to go out and earn it. I need to play my best golf to have a chance.”
McIlroy was in a rich vein of form before the COVID-19 lockdown that led to April’s scheduled event being postponed and, though his engine has been spluttering a bit since the PGA Tour re-started in June, he is sounding quietly confident about this week’s task.
“I feel good about my game,” he said. “Over the last two months I've worked on some technical stuff in my swing that I needed to. Swing was getting very flat and very deep underneath the plane on the way down.
“I feel like I had to sort of hang on to it through impact to hit it straight, where now it's getting back down on plane, I feel I can fully release it and the ball is starting straight. I don't have to feel like I hold onto it to hit a straight shot.
“That sort of has given me a nice bit of freedom throughout my swing. I don't really have the fear of the left as I had sort of during the summer. I made a bunch of birdies at ZoZo (29 in total in a recent event on the PGA Tour), and I made a few mistakes, as well.
“Before the world changed in March, I was playing pretty good. I got to No. 1 in the world, was playing pretty consistent golf, and then after we came back out of the lockdown, there's been really good stuff in there, but there's been some lacklustre stuff, too, lapses of concentration.”
Referring to golf events mainly being played without fans - as is the case this week - since the restart,” he added: “It's been an adjustment to get used to sometimes it’s been a case of feeling like you're out there and it doesn't really count.
“But we've been in it now for a few months, and feel like I've maybe took me a little longer to adjust than some people, but this is the way it's going to be for a while.
“I think everyone is just so grateful that there is a Masters this year and we're playing it, and I think everyone is looking forward to getting started.”
Due partly to Bryson DeChambeau commanding the spotlight on the back of his six-shot victory in last month’s US Open and now threatening to rip Augusta National apart with his big-hitting, there’s a feeling that McIlroy has a chance to fly under the radar this week.
“I've always liked sort of doing my own thing and trying to stay as low key as possible,” he said. "Sometimes that hasn't happened because I've won some tournaments and I've been on some pretty good runs at times. But this is nice.”
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