McIlroy means business as he shuts out distractions at Augusta

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Reporters weren’t quite ringing their editors to say “I got nothing” after Rory McIlroy’s blunt eleven minute pre-Masters press conference but his no bulls**t approach was a sign that he means business this week, if not a little bit desperate to get started on Thursday.

The world number two answered just seven questions without mentioning why he hasn’t won the Masters yet, why he hasn’t won the career grand slam, on it being the tenth year since his last major, a potential LIV winner this week, PGA Tour and LIV negotiations.

It was eleven minutes of “yeah I can win this week, thanks.” Straight in no kissing.

McIlroy has called for patience in his approach to tackling Augusta National in his 16th start since last week’s Valero Texas Open but one could sense his sense of urgency to get going.

The Holywood man was the last person to register for the Masters and arrived just half an hour for his pre-tournament press conference which he started early and answered 22 questions fewer than Tiger Woods.

Part of McIlroy’s patient approach has been to get as many competitive reps in as possible during a packed pre-Masters schedule.

It didn’t all go according to plan in his first four tournaments but a third place in Texas last week during which he played two practice rounds at Augusta National on the Monday and Tuesday of the event shows he was there to find a swing, rather than focus on winning.

McIlroy was in no mood for outside distractions at his press conference, a similar approach he took at last year’s US PGA where he shut down any LIV questions. Yesterday, the media didn’t even get the chance to ask any.

Still, one little nugget is that McIlroy will allow himself to smell the azaleas this week, just as long as he doesn’t get lost in them.

“If I cast my mind back to 18-year-old Rory and I’m driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time, how would I feel and I think? It’s just always trying to go back to being grateful and feeling incredibly lucky that you can be a part of this tournament and you get to compete in it every year,” he said.

​“Thankfully, I’ve improved a bit since my first start here and I feel I’ve got all the tools to do well this week. But, again, to bring those tools out, one of the most important things is to enjoy it and smell the . . . I guess not the roses, the azaleas along the way.”

The underlying tone of McIlroy’s press conference was that he had nothing really to say, just let’s get out there and get going.

There was the usual love in between himself and Tiger with the latter giving his annual Masters backing to McIlroy.

Woods might think it’s only a matter of time, but this is McIlroy’s 16th start at the Masters at just 34 years of age. There is still time but in those previous 15 starts are seven top-10s during which he has rarely truly contended for a green jacket on Sunday.

His best chance was still that fateful Sunday in 2011 when he collapsed to a final round of 80, his four shot lead evaporating on his way to a 15th place finish.

There was that battle with Patrick Reed in 2018 on Sunday but his chances had faded before the back nine. Otherwise, it has been poor start after poor start, with a weekend charge into the top-10 for Rory.

If this was Gaelic Games during the 2000s, you could describe McIlroy as the Monaghan of the Masters. A slow start, culminating in an Ulster Championship defeat only to steamroll through the qualifiers to an All-Ireland semi final before losing again.

McIlroy was guilty of attempting to chase down Brooks Koepka far too early last year. A sketchy level-par 72 left him seven shots off the pace after round one last year and by the time he began round two, Koepka was ten-under. Spooked into trying to hunt down the American, McIlroy crashed out early and missed the cut – a huge mental error considering he had three days to reach the eventual winning score of -12.

Has he learned his lesson from last year? Perhaps. Will Rory become a Kerry or a Dublin where he eases himself into the tournament and grows stronger as it progresses?

“Yeah, I would say not trying to win it from the first tee shot,” he said when asked how he can avoid letting his desire to win consume him utterly.

“I think that’s something that I’ve tried to learn. It’s a 72-hole golf tournament. I’ve won from 10 strokes back going into the weekend. There’s loads of different ways to do it.

“Again, I’ve said this, this golf course gets you to chase things a little more than other golf courses, if you make a bogey or if you get yourself out of position, because it always tempts you to do something you think you can do.

“And I’m pretty confident in my golf game. I think I can do most things, but sometimes you just have to take the conservative route and be a little more disciplined and patient.”

McIlroy said patience will be a virtue. We will find out if he has it.


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