McIlroy saying all the right things ahead of the Masters

Peter Finnan

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)

Peter Finnan

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Rory McIlroy has talked the right game this week and is playing the right notes. Whether he can play them in the right order at the Masters next week remains to be seen.

It seems as if McIlroy is going to employ a patient strategy at Augusta National after he was caught chasing Brooks Koepka out of the traps en route to missing the cut in whimpering fashion last year.

The Holywood man will make a tenth attempt at the career grand slam next week and he has tried just about every approach in that time, but to no avail.

Play a limited schedule, pack the schedule, play smart, play aggressive. He’s tried it all but the fruits of his labour have not been forthcoming.

McIlroy of course isn’t the only player to have a major championship hoodoo, particularly when it comes to completing the Grand Slam. Phil Mickelson has failed to win the US Open and get his hands on all four majors during his career.

McIlroy came out of the traps flying to start the season with a second and a win on the DP World Tour’s desert swing but in truth, he hasn’t looked himself since stepping down from the Player Advisory Board, when it was supposed to have the opposite effect.

The four-time major has done everything but get his hands on a fifth major in the last decade and the consistency he has shown over the last two seasons is nothing we have seen before from him.

In fact, McIlroy has lost that consistency this season, with erratic and volatile rounds marring his PGA Tour campaign. Even when he was in good form earlier in the year, he has shown a tendency to throw in huge numbers out of nowhere.

But a visit to Butch Harmon seems to have cleared his mind and the signs look good.

Although not at his best, McIlroy has played patient, boring golf and shown a discipline that is needed to win at Augusta. He need only look at world number one Scottie Scheffler in that regard.

Course management will be the key for McIlroy next week and he knows that.

“Discipline, not being tempted to do too much, sticking to your game plan. Ben Crenshaw said a good thing to me a few years ago, he just said high lines, just keep it high, just high lines, read more into putts than you think.”

It’s a lesson McIlroy needed to learn after being spooked at last year’s Masters.

Koepka was already in the club house with a 65 in round one before McIlroy began his tournament and by the time he had played his 27th hole he was at -10, which ultimately proved to be two shy of the winning total shot by Jon Rahm.

McIlroy however, panicked and got caught chasing a low score too early in the tournament. It’s the sort of mental block that comes when you have so much baggage at one tournament, but he must focus on his own game.

“If someone says I want you to go out and shoot 67 at Augusta, it’s very easy to shoot 75 or 76 because you start to chase pins, you start to miss it in the wrong spots, you start to not be patient and play the disciplined golf that you need to.

“Good golf at Augusta feels lake boring golf and I think that’s something that I’ve always struggled with because that’s not my game. To me it’s the biggest test of discipline and the biggest test of patience of the year for me.”

McIlroy needs to worry about nothing else but himself. Set a scoring target and see what happens.

Last year the hype over McIlroy potentially winning the Masters was through the roof only to fall flat on its face. This year it’s been slightly tepid, partly because of the ominous form of Scheffler who seems capable of walking away with a green jacket at a canter.

The LIV element will garner plenty of headlines in the pre-tournament build up and if McIlroy wants to play boring golf on the course he needs to take a boring approach to the build up and avoid any distractions.

It feels like he is going in under the radar and although working with Butch Harmon will increase the spotlight slightly, he needs to keep himself away from the spotlight.

“Bob Rotella said the main thing for Rory next week is to stay calm and cool,” Curtis Strange said in an ESPN teleconference.

“He had this phrase ‘the mind has to be stronger than the swing’ and I think in Rory’s case that is exactly right because he does have some baggage coming in here.

“He knows he could have won here a couple of times, but he knows he has the game as well.

“So do what you know how to do. Play your own game, play smart, play a little more conservative golf around Augusta and then on Sunday afternoon, if the chips fall, he’ll be in contention.”

In fact the chips haven’t fallen for McIlroy at Augusta. Seven top-10s but only two realistic chances to win, that ill-fated day in 2011 and his losing battle with Patrick Reed in 2018 that went up in smoke before the back nine.

If McIlroy is to finally slip into a green jacket, he needs to hang around and take the first 36-holes from the Valero Texas Open into Augusta.

Patience, calculated and most importantly, a scorecard lacking big numbers.


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