Wednesday 19 September 2018

Winning before US Masters isn't a must - McIlroy

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

By Brian Keogh

Timing is everything in golf but Rory McIlroy is refusing to put himself under pressure to end his victory drought before the Masters.

Eight of the last 10 Masters champions have won a tournament in the six months before arriving at Augusta National.

But while three-time green jacket winner Phil Mickelson and four-time champion Tiger Woods believe lifting some silverware in the build-up is key, McIlroy begs to differ.

"I feel like that's putting yourself under an awful lot of pressure," McIlroy said ahead of the Honda Classic in West Palm Beach, where he's drawn with Pádraig Harrington for the first time since they played in this event for the first two rounds two years ago.

"You don't have to win a tournament," McIlroy said of creating Masters-winning form. "Obviously Sergio had won a tournament going in last year. Danny Willett the year before had won a tournament.

"Obviously if you do win one, it makes you feel a little better about yourself going there. But I don't think it's imperative."

The County Down man's 17-month win-less streak is the longest of his professional career. But he knows what makes him tick and winning one of the four pre-Masters tournaments he has left is not a must.

"The margins between winning and losing are so fine that you could be really happy with your game one week and finish 10th, and actually not feel great about it and have a chance to win," he said.

"Obviously to get a win under your belt, it does make you feel a bit better going into it. But I don't want to put myself under that pressure because there's enough going into Augusta anyway."

Believing his game is "close", he added: "I feel like I'm just waiting for everything to sort of fit together.

"I feel like I've seen enough good things in my game over the past few weeks to know that it's not far away."

PGA National should suit him, even if he has bittersweet memories of the Champion Course and the dreaded Bear Trap run of holes from the 15th to the 17th.

In 2012, he dominated the par-fives and held off a charging Woods to win and become world No 1 for the first time.

Twelve months later he walked off after just 27 holes, saying he was not in a good place mentally before later issuing a statement insisting he was suffering from a toothache.

After following a runner-up finish in 2014 with back-to-back missed cuts in the last two years, he grinned and said: "Feast or famine, that's what my history's been here."

He's certainly happy to avoid another pairing with a relaxed Woods, who signed autographs and joked with his amateur playing partners in yesterday's pro-am.

According to a Golfweek report, after one member of his group topped a drive into the rough and walked past it, Woods picked it up and said, "he might need it".

Gladly

"I'll gladly be on the opposite end of the draw this week," McIlroy said of avoiding more Tiger mayhem in Florida.

Making the cut is a must for Shane Lowry, who needs a win to qualify for next week's WGC-Mexico Championship while Seamus Power and Graeme McDowell are looking to put together four good days in-a-row.

McDowell showed over the first three days at Riviera last week that he's getting close to his best again. And with five top-15 finishes in the Honda Classic in the last seven years, this could be his week.

As for Woods being named as one of Jim Furyk's vice-captains for September's Ryder Cup, McIlroy sees it as a sign that the Americans have wrested control of their team set-up from the PGA of America.

"The first thing they did in that task force was Phil (Mickelson) played a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them," McIlroy said of a recent chat with Mickelson himself. "So they are copying what we do and it's working for them…"

On the European Tour, Gavin Moynihan is hoping to take advantage of a last-minute phone call from the European Tour and make his first cheque of the season in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

A reserve all last week, the Dubliner (23) only got the green light on Tuesday and flew out yesterday, expecting to arrive in Doha just 10 hours before his 11.10am tee time today.

Qatar Masters, live

Sky Sports, 7.30

Honda Classic, live

Sky Sports, 8.0

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