Rory McIlroy’s tilt at the career grand slam’s ninth episode airs this week and the four-time major champion feels that the mix of success and scar tissue complement each other when it comes to building character and taking a player to the next level.
“I think you have to go through everything, right,” the world number two said. “Not every experience is going to be a good experience. I think that would lead to a pretty boring life. You know, you have to learn from those challenges and learn from some of that scar tissue that’s built up.
“You know, I felt last year that I maybe shed some of that scar tissue and felt like I sort of made breakthroughs. Yeah, I’m feeling as relaxed as I ever have coming in here just in terms of I feel like my game is in a pretty good place. I know the place just about as well as anyone.
“But yeah, 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.”
Poor starts to the tournament have been McIlroy’s Achilles’ heel in recent Masters outings, and he feels that, due to the tough nature of the course, a fast start will be key to giving himself a realistic chance of slipping on the Green Jacket on Sunday evening.
“Excluding the back nine on Sunday with some of the hole locations, I think it’s a very difficult course to chase on,” McIlroy explained. “You start to fire at pins and short-siding yourself and you’re missing in the wrong spots, it’s hard to make up a lot of ground.
“What’s the biggest thing here in Augusta? Greens in regulation, hitting greens. If you get off to a good start, it’s way easier to get into that mindset when you’ve been off to a fast start.
“Yeah, say you shoot a couple over that first day, then you start having to chase just to make the cut or try to get yourself back in the tournament, that’s when this golf course can really sort of step up and bite you. I think that’s part of the reason.”
As the one major that he’s yet to add to his resume, McIlroy has admitted that there are times that he has put himself under too much pressure at Augusta and the biggest challenge he faces is getting the mental balance right.
“I would say the majority were mental or emotional struggles rather than physical,” he conceded. “I’ve always felt like I have the physical ability to win this tournament. But it’s being in the right head space to let those physical abilities shine through.
“Going back to Gary’s question a few moments ago, it’s been tentative starts, not putting my foot on the gas early enough. It’s been — I’ve had a couple of bad nine holes that have sort of thrown me out of the tournament at times.
“So it’s sort of just like I’ve got all the ingredients to make the pie. It’s just putting all those ingredients in and setting the oven to the right temperature and letting it all sort of come to fruition. But I know that I’ve got everything there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.
As one of the most outspoken supporters of the PGA Tour and one of LIV Golf’s most ardent critics, McIlroy was asked what the atmosphere is like on the grounds this week with 18 LIV players in the field and he explained that he still enjoys good relationships with a number of the LIV defectors, including Brooks Koepka with whom he had a practice round scheduled at Augusta National.
“I see some of these guys at home,” he said. “I see Brooks a lot, I see DJ a lot, we sort of practice at the same place.
“As you said, I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become in some way. I’m going to go play nine holes here with Brooks in a little bit. And look, there’s so many — it’s a very nuanced situation and there’s different dynamics. You know, it’s okay to get on with Brooks and DJ and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV, right. It’s interpersonal relationships, that’s just how it goes.
“But this week and this tournament is way bigger than any of that, I feel, and it’s just great that all of the best players in the world are together again for the first time in what seems to be quite a while.”
Phil Mickelson is one of the LIV players that McIlroy has been most critical of, publicly ridiculing Phil’s statements about the Saudi Royal family that were published in an extract from Alan Shipnuck’s biography of the three-time Masters champion, and being filmed yelling expletives towards a TV screen featuring Mickelson that was aired on Netflix’ ‘Full Swing’ PGA Tour documentary, but McIlroy extended an olive branch of sorts to Mickelson.
“I have not spoken to Phil,” he replied when asked, “but it’s great to see him back. You know, he’s a three-time champion here. We’re not even two years removed from him doing what I believe is one of the greatest feats in the game of golf, winning the PGA Championship at 51 years of age or whatever it was. It’s good to have him back.”
McIlroy has spent more time at Augusta in the run-up to this year’s Masters than he has for prior editions, though he says the additional trips down Magnolia Lane have been as much about having fun as anything else.
“I’ve played 81 holes in the last sort of 2 1/2 weeks,” he reminisced, “so sort of very familiar with the place again, and obviously looking forward to getting the week started good.
“I think more than anything else, it’s fun. It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to play. It’s a treat. I came up here last Thursday. It was sort of just on a whim. I texted Shane Lowry and I said, look, we’re going to be practicing in Florida, why don’t we just come up here for a day.
“Yeah, it’s just a treat to come up here and play, and you know, just I feel like you go around here, and whether you learn something new or not, it’s just a nice way to spend a day.”
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