McIlroy right fit for Green Jacket - player
Even as a chill wind whistled across the players' car park at Augusta National yesterday morning, whipping up leaves, branches and other debris left by a spectacular overnight storm, Rory McIlroy's eyes burned bright as he spoke of the joy of playing golf on such holy ground.
McIlroy, just 21 and already famous for being able to make golf enthusiasts swoon with the power and grace in his swing, then found the words to perfectly sum up the excitement and anticipation he feels every time he tees it up at Augusta National.
"It's the same feeling you get as a child on Christmas Morning," he said. "You can't sleep. You're up at five. You're up at six. You're waiting. It doesn't matter if you are coming back for your third visit, or your 12th, or your 20th. It's just a very special place."
McIlroy was talking about the practice round he played here last Thursday with a close friend from home, Harry Diamond.
Tomorrow morning the ante will be upped a thousand-fold when this gifted young man from Holywood goes to the first tee at the Masters with a golf game which could have been tailor-made for Augusta.
Opinions are divided when it comes to his prospects this week.
Three-time Masters champion Gary Player and US Open champion Graeme McDowell would not be surprised to see McIlroy wearing the famous Green Jacket on Sunday.
Meanwhile, American coach Butch Harmon, who works with tournament favourite Phil Mickelson, believes McIlroy's short game is not yet good enough to clinch victory at Augusta.
Yet it's a measure of the impact McIlroy has had on the world game that so many people here are talking about him and seriously weighing up his prospects of overturning Mickelson, hot favourite to win his fourth Masters since posting a course-record 63 at Redstone last Saturday on his way to victory at the Shell Houston Open.
So where does the truth lie, he was asked. "You'll have to wait until Sunday to find out," came the reply. "I'm feeling great. I know I've beaten most of the players in this field before at some point so there's no reason to think I can't go out and do it this week."
Anyone who witnessed McIlroy's dissection of Quail Hollow one famous weekend last summer as he marched to a sensational first PGA Tour victory will be convinced that if the same young man reports for duty tomorrow morning, then his short game or any other part of his repertoire will not be an issue.
McIlroy is satisfied that his preparations for the first Major of the season have put him in an entirely different place than he was 12 months ago, when flat batteries and a creaking back caused the crestfallen youngster to miss the cut for the first time at a Major championship.
"I feel so much better about my whole season and my game," he agreed. "Coming in here last year, I'd just missed the cut at Houston, my back wasn't feeling too good and I wasn't in a great place.
"This year, I feel I've paced myself well. I've only played five tournaments and had a chance to win a couple.
"It hasn't quite come off but I feel as if I am trying to pace myself and I feel very fresh and ready to get out there and give it a good go."
The objective is to find the same momentum at Augusta which saw him play the back nine in five-under-par 31 on Sunday afternoon here in 2009, as McIlroy surged to a top-20 finish in his first Masters, hinting that Mickelson isn't the only player blessed with a rare gift for playing Augusta.
While Player readily nominated Mickelson as the favourite this week, he went on: "Rory McIlroy is so talented, I've got a feeling about him, I don't know why. I just love the way he plays golf. He is ready to come through."
McIlroy was last of the invitees to check in for this year's Masters, signing for badge No 99 at 8.0 yesterday morning, and Player certainly is not alone in thinking the Ulster prodigy could also be the last man in on Sunday.