True heavyweight: Rory McIlroy is hoping a rigorous fitness regime gives him Masters edge
Rory McIlroy is hoping a rigorous fitness regime will give him vital edge in the hunt for the Green Jacket
Suddenly the reasons for Rory McIlroy's decision to sidestep the carnival build-up to Thursday's Masters have been made clear.
While previous years saw him take part in the traditional Par 3 contest upon arrival at Augusta National, sponsors Nike yesterday revealed that the World No 3 is leaving nothing to chance in his bid to secure an elusive Green Jacket and a career Grand Slam this weekend.
As part of their 'Chasing Greatness' campaign, the US sporting brand offered a glimpse of their star turn's preparation over the last fortnight that has included 5.30am wake-up calls and double sessions both in the gym and on the course.
"If you don't love the work you have to put in to become the best, then you may want to consider a different line of work or sport of choice," said the Co Down 26-year-old.
"I think the common denominator among every great athlete, no matter the sport, is they love the chase to improve. They dedicate themselves more and that's the main reason they're better."
On his late arrival to Georgia, he added: "You can't learn as much in practice rounds as actual tournaments.
"Everything I've learned there has been during competitive play because there's nothing like missing it in a wrong spot when you really can't miss it in a wrong spot.
"It's why this year I'm not going up early. I'm going up Monday afternoon and treating it like a regular tournament.
"I already feel a little more mellow and a lot more chilled compared to the all the hype around me a year ago."
McIlroy is the only member of the world's top five yet to taste victory this season but will still be among a small group of favourites come Thursday.
His build-up for the biggest events was called into question as recently as last year after he missed out on defending his Open title at St Andrews thanks to a ruptured ankle ligament sustained playing football with friends but it seems he is singularly focused this time around.
However, with concerns over the cause of Tiger Woods's failing body, and discussion over McIlroy's own dedication to weight training, is the dusk-till-dawn routine the best recipe for success?
Mike McGurn, one of the foremost strength and conditioning coaches in Ireland and Britain, certainly believes so. Having delivered a talk in Poland last weekend entitled 'Max-Strength Training for Golf and Soccer', the former Armagh footballer recently spent time studying the training methods of golfers while also working with Queen's Sport's promising youngster Jessica Ross.
He highlighted McIlroy's morning mobility work as the key to the regimen.
"When you think about golf's strength and conditioning, it's a relatively new thing," said the man possessing a CV that boasts stints with the Irish and Lions rugby teams, Premier League footballers, former World Champion boxer Bernard Dunne and Armagh GAA
"It used to be the Darren Clarke approach to training. Now though, you can see the importance being placed on gym work and, like with anything, if you don't do it properly then you're doing yourself more damage than good.
"When you get people adding all this muscle mass, the key is to do the mobility work. Weights stiffen the body, to keep that elasticity, you need the mobility."
McIlroy's two-week rigorous regime is what McGurn describes as "over-reaching".
"It would be fairly standard practice I would say to do that sort of thing; over-reaching before having a down week going in.
"You're not going to be developing in competition. It's during the rest periods that the body builds up. Otherwise, without that, you're actually de-powering yourself.
"Everything he has been doing the past two weeks, during the over-reaching, that's money in the bank for this week. The cardiovascular work as well, that's key for a golfer, especially if you make the cut.
"It's not something I had thought about much before doing some work with golf but if you become fatigued late in the round, late in the weekend, that takes its toll on your focus.
"In a game where the mental side is so important, that can be the difference."
With McIlroy's admiration for Woods well documented, any discussion of weight training will edge towards the notion that the 14-time Major winner's back troubles over recent years were the product of bulking up too quickly.
It was an opinion aired by the American's former caddie Steve Williams last week who told BBC Radio's 5 Live: "I guess when he looks back, he might question some of the activities that he did, some of the gym work that he might have done that, you know, had all these injuries escalate."
McGurn is sure, however, that McIlroy's gym work will be tailored to avoid landing him in future trouble.
"Without knowing the ins and outs of Tiger Woods' situation, certainly looking to put on a great amount of muscle mass can lead to trouble with the back if it's not carried out correctly.
"Again, that's why mobility work is so important. I've actually seen a few of Rory's lifts and he has pretty good technique. He is going to be getting well coached so he'll know what work he has to do."
And should he become just the sixth man to win all four of golf's greatest prizes, it'll all seem worth it
A snapshot of McIlroy's daily schedule the two weeks leading into the first major of the year:
5.30am Wake up, light breakfast
6.30am Hit the gym; running and mobility training/stability exercises
7.30am Eat larger breakfast with recovery drink
4.0pm Mid-afternoon snack
4.45pm Main workout
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