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Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has a new outlook in latest bid to win the Masters

He needs just the Green Jacket to complete the near-impossible. Not that you would know it from the Northern Irishman’s latest pre-tournament media showdown. Alex Perry was there to join the fun

 

“It would feel pretty good!”

Rory McIlroy leads the laughter in a packed media room and the four-time major champion is – as is so often the case – in fine form as he speaks ahead of the 2023 Masters.

He’s just been asked how it would feel to finally get over the line at Augusta National and be mentioned in the same breath as Grand Slam champions Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“It’s one of the biggest sport tournaments in the world,” he adds, before accepting the bait. “Wherever you rank them, it’s up to you – as we’ve seen this week.”

The room erupts for a second time. Even the Green Jacket hosting the press conference allows himself a rye smile. McIlroy is, of course, referring to Player’s oddly-timed comments in recent days where he said the Masters is his fourth favourite of the four major championships.

“But it’s a major,” McIlroy continues, suddenly serious again. “I’ve won four of them, and I’ve been knocking on the door for that fifth one for a while.

“I feel like I’m as good as, if not better than I was the last time I won a major championship. So I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

It’s hard to think who would be a more popular winner than the Northern Irishman this week, and he has always had the support of Augusta’s patrons.

“I’m incredibly lucky that I get supported pretty well wherever I go,” he reflects. “But no one wants me to win this tournament more than me, right?”

He’s got the room on strings again.

“I don’t feel like the support is a weight of expectation, but it’s incredibly nice and I’m incredibly grateful that I do have that support. If that can help me half a percent to get through this week, then I’ll take it.”


MASTERS DIARY: WHAT’S IT LIKE TO VISIT AUGUSTA FOR THE FIRST TIME?


In terms of his preparations to make those dreams of a joining golf’s most exclusive club a reality, McIlroy says he and Shane Lowry headed for a practice round last week “on a whim”.

“I texted Shane and I said, ‘Look, we’re going to be practising in Florida, why don’t we just come up here for a day?'”

Imagine being able to do that.

But if McIlroy is to succeed here, it feels like he needs to take the pressure off himself and – more importantly – get over those first-round demons.

Since 2011, where he opened with a 65 and led by four going into the final round before – well, you know – McIlroy has broken 70 just once on Thursday – and that was 2018 where, had his putter been a bit warmer on Sunday, he would have kept up with eventual champion Patrick Reed.

So it’s all about a new way of thinking for the 33-year-old, making his 15th start here, who has history against him. After all, only one player – Sergio Garcia – has needed more attempts to slip into the Green Jacket.

“More than anything else, it’s fun,” McIlroy muses. “It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to play. It’s a treat.

“You go around here and, whether you learn something new or not, it’s just a nice way to spend a day. There’s no real thinking behind playing more so than other years. It’s just fun to be up here.

“I think you have to go through everything. Not every experience is going to be a good experience. That would lead to a pretty boring life. You have to learn from those challenges and learn from some of that scar tissue that’s built up.

“I felt last year I maybe shed some of that scar tissue and felt like I made breakthroughs. I’m feeling as relaxed as I ever have coming in here just in terms of my game is in a pretty good place. I know the place just as about as well as anyone.

“But good experiences, bad experiences, it all adds up at the end of the day, and you probably learn a bit more from those bad experiences, and I feel like I’ve done pretty well at sort of putting those lessons into my play and being better because of them.”

McIlroy’s ability to flit between jovial and philosophical is what makes him such a fascinating person to which to listen.

He’s asked about what sort of head space he’s in ahead right now. “Great!” he says. “I mean, I’m not going to tell you it’s terrible…”

He pauses.

“No, the best way for me to feel like I’m in a good head space is to be as prepared as I possibly can be, and I feel really prepared.

“When you feel that way and you feel like you’ve done everything that you need to do, you just get into a different level of comfort. I think I’m pretty much there.”

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, with whom he played a practice round on Monday, is in no doubt that McIlroy will join him as a Grand Slam winner.

“He will,” he tells a slightly larger audience a little more than an hour later. “It’s just a matter of time.

“Rory has the talent. He has the game. He has all the tools to win here. It’s just a matter of time.

“A lot of things have to happen to win at this golf course, a lot of things have to go right, and Rory has shown over the years he’s learned how to play this golf course, and you just have to understand how to play it.

“Whether it’s this year or next or whenever it comes, he will get it done, and he will have a career Grand Slam.

“It’s just what year it will be. It will definitely happen.”

McIlroy, who will have to overcome one of the most open Masters ever, will get his ninth Grand Slam attempt underway alongside Tom Kim and Sam Burns.

Will Rory McIlroy complete the Grand Slam at the 2023 Masters? Tweet me and let me know!

Alex Perry

Alex Perry

Alex has been the editor of National Club Golfer since 2017. A Devonian who enjoys wittering on about his south west roots, Alex moved north to join NCG after more than a decade in London, the last five of which were with ESPN. Away from golf, Alex follows Torquay United and spends too much time playing his PlayStation or his guitar and not enough time practising his short game.

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