Thursday 23 October 2014

McIlroy yearning for a first Green Jacket at Augusta

Phil Casey

Published 05/04/2013 | 09:47

Rory McIlroy in action at the Valero Texas Open

The statistics on Rory McIlroy's season so far have become depressingly familiar.

A missed cut in Abu Dhabi in his first event with new equipment as part of a multi-million pound sponsorship deal. A first-round defeat in the Accenture Match Play. A withdrawal from the Honda Classic and subsequent apology. A solitary top-10 finish and loss of status as world number one.

But in case anyone was in any doubt, the Northern Irishman is fully focused on winning a first Green Jacket in next week's US Masters.

"It would mean everything," the 23-year-old said. "I'm halfway to the career Grand Slam and that's one of the pieces of the puzzle. The Open Championship is the other.

"That's a big goal for me - to try to win more major championships. I feel like I'm at a stage now where, sure I want to win other tournaments, but the majors are the focus."

McIlroy already has the US Open and US PGA Championship titles under his belt, winning both by eight shots and looking almost untouchable at the end of 2012, when he followed his triumph at Kiawah Island with back-to-back wins in the United States, a starring role in Europe's Ryder Cup 'Miracle at Medinah' and victory in the season-ending Dubai World Tour Championship.

In following Luke Donald in topping the money list on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, McIlroy already looked set for life, but then came confirmation in January this year of the worst-kept secret in golf - an enormous sponsorship deal with Nike that catapulted him into the upper echelons of sport's top earners.

It was a switch labelled "dangerous" by six-time major winner Nick Faldo, who looked to have been vindicated when McIlroy shot two rounds of 75 in Abu Dhabi and then lost to Shane Lowry in Arizona, and things went from bad to worse when McIlroy walked off the course midway through his second round at the Honda Classic.

Initially telling reporters he was in a "bad place mentally", McIlroy subsequently blamed the pain from a wisdom tooth for his early exit, but the following week admitted that was no excuse for his behaviour and repaired the damage with a well-handled apology.

Later that month saw McIlroy lose his world number one ranking to Nike stablemate Tiger Woods, who will seek a fifth Masters title on the back of three wins already this season.

But Woods knows better than anyone about the highs and lows of life in the golfing spotlight, and McIlroy is prepared to accept both as long as the former outweigh the latter.

"I don't care if I miss 10 cuts in a row if I win a major a year," insisted McIlroy, agreeing with Padraig Harrington's claim that consistency is over-rated. "That's what it's all about - winning the big tournaments.

"Of course, it's not going to be great for your confidence going into those majors if you're missing 10 cuts in a row, but when people look back on a person's career, you don't say 'Jack Nicklaus was so consistent'.

"You could say he finished 19 times second in a major. But what you think about is the 18 majors he won. That's what people remember. People remember the wins.

"They don't remember that I shot 65 at Doral to finish eighth. They remember the wins and they remember the high points. It's only a minority that will remember the low points and will get on you for that.

"I remember last year, my five wins, my second major championship, the Ryder Cup, winning player of the year. I don't remember missing four or five cuts or whatever it was in the middle of the season. I mean, I remember, but that's not what I think about. I think about the high points."

McIlroy is also learning from his mistakes and that nothing should ever be written in stone.

Last year he took three weeks off before the Masters, saying he usually did well when he felt fresh.

"I feel like if this was my third week in a row, there might be bad shots or bad putts that creep into your mind from the previous week," he said at the time.

Twelve months on, the Masters will be his third event in a row after the late addition of the Valero Texas Open to his schedule. McIlroy will be hoping that is just another statistic to be overshadowed by a new, distinctly coloured, addition to his wardrobe.

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