Maybe we should all practise a little noise cancellation when watching Rory McIlroy play at Augusta.
This year the jitters began as early as the opening tee shot and continued all the way up to the missed five-footer at the last as he signed for a 73, a score that grew increasingly timid as the day wore on.
We should be used to this by now, this is McIlroy’s 11th appearance in the Masters, but, let’s be honest, we’re all still in Augusta therapy by not only what went on in 2011 but his subsequent struggle to put that final round of 80 right.
He might well have dusted everyone by eight shots at the US Open just two months later but this is the tournament that had him in tears on the phone to his mum on the Monday morning eight years ago and this is where he has admitted over the years, being the open, honest character that he is, that he’s been spooked like nowhere else.
The course we all know better than anywhere else on the major rota and one that seemingly suits his game better than anywhere and, here we go again, for the fifth straight year, we’re all uncomfortably obsessing about McIlroy’s bid to win here.
Next month he’ll turn 30 and, year after year, he’s pretty much everyone’s player of choice filed under ‘the heart says’.
Forget Rickie Fowler, who doesn’t have any majors while McIlroy has four, or Justin Rose, who keeps knocking at the door here, or one big hurrah for Tiger or Phil, Rory is where the emotions sit.
This year he’s also pretty much everyone’s choice for ‘the head says’ after bludgeoning a barrage of top 10s as well as silencing the Sunday-itis finger pointers with his win at Sawgrass.
But this week is a different beast given that this place has royally messed with his head. Previously he’s pushed too hard, over-prepared and admitted that it’s mattered too much.
These days while we might all be over-fretting things, McIlroy is in a good place mentally. A one-time dabble into meditation has now become a daily practice, he did it for 20 minutes on the morning of the Players win, while a look at his book choices from the past year makes, pardon the pun, for some interesting reading – The Greatest Salesman in the World, The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy.
He’s even just started juggling to try and help his mental state while Dr Clayton Skaggs, who he was introduced to by his putting coach Brad Faxon, has been by his side this week.
There’s plenty of chat about the Ps in his press conferences, one of which is patience. It might depend on where your own head is on how you might decipher McIlroy’s first round.
On one hand it’s his second-worst opening effort at Augusta, there was that fanned tee shot at the 1st, which resembled his horrible Sunday opener 12 months ago alongside Patrick Reed, and led to one of six bogeys, a figure for dropped shots that you might want to be ending the week on rather than the opening round.
The records will show that he hit half his fairways and 11 of 18 greens. Yet, without his best stuff, there were also five birdies. He took advantage of three of the par 5s and in the profit column there were remarkable back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16 – the first from under the trees down the left of the fairway and a recovery that found the green from 194 yards, the second courtesy of a 35-footer.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 11, 2019
Then, given this is McIlroy at the Masters, we had a pair of bogeys to finish. Even among the gusts, quirky pin positions and general first-day weirdness this was particularly up and down. It could have been a little better and it could have been a lot worse.
“I made five birdies, that wasn’t the problem – I just made too many mistakes,” McIlroy said. “And I’m making mistakes from pretty simple positions, just off the side of the green at 17 and 18 being prime examples of that.”
“Six bogeys out there is a little too many and I’m just going to need to tidy that up over the next few days. I’m going to go to the putting green right now and try to figure out reads more than anything else. I over-read a few early on and then I started to under-read them coming in. So I will just try to work on that a little bit.”
Another P that McIlroy now talks about is perspective. He’s only four back, he didn’t shoot 75 like Justin Rose or Jordan Spieth, or 81 like Paul Casey. And he didn’t spend the day in agony like Jason Day.
It will continue to be one shot at a time and it will all get going at 7pm on Friday, hopefully with a straighter tee shot.
The head-munching continues.