For those who’ve closely followed Rory McIlroy’s career, there’s a nine-letter word that’s increasingly crept into his vocabulary – ‘narrative’. It’s a word that has its origins in the mid-15th Century but it has popped-up often when McIlroy’s quizzed on his chances of winning the Masters.
He first used the word ‘narrative’ when asked of his 2016 Masters chances minutes after capturing the 2015 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“Next year (2016), the narrative might be around three guys; myself going for the Grand Slam again,” he said.
“It’s always going to be there until I get to put a green jacket on my back. It’s obviously the first real goal of the year, to try and get ready for the Masters and be in as good of shape as possible going in there.”
Fast forward to the eve of the 2016 Honda Classic and McIlroy was asked if it made a difference heading to Augusta if he was being singled out as a Masters favourite.
“I don’t feel like being singled out makes any difference than being part of a group or a narrative that is going into it (The Masters),” said McIlroy.
More recently, McIlroy used the word ‘narrative’ not once, not twice but five times on the eve of last month’s WGC – Dell Technologies Match-Play when quizzed what he needs to do to avoid becoming the ‘narrative’ of being unable to close-out winning the Masters.
“You don’t listen, you don’t read, you don’t watch the narrative, first and foremost,” he said.
“It might be a narrative to some people but it wasn’t a narrative to me. I’m giving over two-and-a-half strokes a round on the rest of the field. So that was my narrative. My narrative is I’m playing some pretty good golf here. Just a matter of keep doing what I’m doing, keep thinking how I’m thinking.
“And again, it’s not being defined by your wins and losses, that’s the key. That’s the secret of being freed up and not buying into narratives and not living and dying with every golf tournament or every shot. I think that’s very important.”
A career-defining use of the nine-letter word for McIlroy would singularly materialise late this coming Easter Sunday night (US time) when Patrick Reed helps fit the 29-year old into a size 42 Augusta National members green jacket.
Three days earlier on Thursday will be the opening scenes in what will now be ‘Take-Five’ in McIlroy’s goal to win the one Major to send him forever into golfing immortality.
Though the dream of joining now good friends, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as a Grand Slam champion will take on a new perspective if he fails to win at the ‘Cathedral in the Pines’.
Easter Sunder will mark 13 days to the Northern Irishman’s 30th birthday and only three of five Grand Slammers, and indeed the last three in Nicklaus, Player and Woods have won the Grand Slam by age 30.
Nicklaus was 26 in winning the Grand Slam in 1966 while a then 29-year old Player achieved the feat in 1965. Woods was still eight months shy of his 25th birthday when he became a Grand Slam champion with his memorising, and ‘never went in one bunker for four days’, eight-shot success in the 2000 Open at St. Andrews.
Only Ben Hogan, who was aged 41 in 1953, and Gene Sarazen at age 33 in 1953 were older than 30 in winning the Masters.
Currently, McIlroy is in a group of five players to have won The Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship but not a Masters, but then three of those, headed by Walter Hagen (11 Majors), are no longer with us. Only Lee Trevino and McIlroy are living members in that ‘club’.
If you take Hogan’s age as the Grand Slam membership age limit, then McIlroy still has 11-years to join the ‘club’.
With Woods fully-fit, McIlroy favourite and in-form Francesco Molinari lurking, this year’s Masters already promises to be special.
It’s also the 60th anniversary of a then 19-year old Nicklaus making his Masters debut. Between missing the cut in 1959 and ending with a round of 76 in 2005, the Golden Bear competed in 45 Masters. Nicklaus won six green jackets and was runner-up on four occasions.
And this year also marks the 20th anniversary of Jose Maria Olazabal’s remarkable second Masters victory in 1999.
‘Ollie’ had struggled in limping his way to a first Masters four years earlier with what was thought to be a foot problem before later, in 1995, a then 30-year old Olazabal was in so much pain he quit golf.
Finally, after so many medical opinions, a German doctor in 1996 identified the Spaniard’s ailment as a lower-back concern, allowing Olazabal to emerge three years on with a very emotional second Masters.
A McIlroy win wouldn’t quite compare to such a fairytale comeback but he won’t mind the narrative as long as it’s Rory who’s wearing the Green Jacket come the close of play on Masters Sunday.