Masters 2024

Masters 2024: Trevor Immelman contends building pressure is biggest obstacle to Rory McIlroy completing career grand slam

April 01, 2024
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Rory McIlroy walks down the second fairway with caddie Harry Diamond during the 2023 Masters.

Ross Kinnaird

Of all the compelling storylines for the upcoming Masters Tournament—whether it’s the continued high-level play of World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm’s attempt to become the fourth back-to-back champion—the one that stands out the most, according to Trevor Immelman, is Rory McIlroy’s continued quest to complete the career grand slam.

“Rory is the big one here,” Immelman, the 2008 Masters winner and lead analyst for CBS Sports, said Monday during a teleconference with reporters as CBS prepared to broadcast the Masters for the 69th consecutive year. “I mean, it's hard to fathom really that he hasn't won a major in a decade with as dominant as he has been in the game during that time. So I look forward to seeing what he comes up with. … Wouldn't it be fun for us on CBS and the golfing world to have McIlroy trying to complete the grand slam here on Sunday in a week's time?”

It would probably be fun for Rory, too. But since his epic back-nine collapse in 2011 that torpedoed what would have been a wire-to-wire victory, McIlroy hasn’t given himself many chances. Since that Masters, McIlroy has begun the final round inside the top-10 on only three occasions, including 2018 when he stood second and played in the final pairing with eventual winner Patrick Reed. His best finish was a backdoor second place two years ago when he closed with a 64, but that is sandwiched between missed cuts in 2021 and ’23.

McIlroy, ranked second in the world behind Scheffler, is competing this week at the Valero Texas Open before he heads to Augusta National Golf Club. He last won a major at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., site of next month’s PGA.

Immelman described McIlroy’s hunt for the grand slam as “the ultimate trying to get over the line; that is the most elite list in our sport is career grand slam winners."

In other words, it's hard to accomplish. Only five men have done it: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“This is going to be his [McIlroy's] 10th attempt, and, mentally, it starts to weigh on you more and more because you feel like you've got what it takes,” said Immelman, who believes the if McIlroy has made one mistake, it’s playing Augusta National too aggressively.

“If you've gotten to this level, you've obviously proven it. The pressure you put on yourself and that spotlight just starts to intensify. And so mentally it becomes a huge challenge. It’s a monster you have to run toward. I think back to some advice that Gary Player gave me on the eve before the final round of the 2008 masters. He said, ‘Trevor, you better learn to love of adversity because it's going to come at some point and when it does, that's going to be the moment. Are you either going to stand up to it and embrace that and really fight to win this Masters or are you going to cower away?’”

Verne Lundquist, working his 40th and final Masters for CBS this year, was as shocked as anyone to see McIlroy struggle late Sunday in 2011 after building a comfortable lead only to crumble to a final-round 80 that dropped him to T-15. He explained why McIlroy’s collapse, which began with a triple bogey at the par-4 10th hole, was so surprising.

He had received a scouting report, which looked legit until, well, it wasn't.

“Rory and David Feherty are from neighboring hometowns in Northern Ireland, and David and I were housemates at Augusta for 11 years along with Peter Kostis,” Lundquist said. “David had dinner with Rory on Saturday night and came back to our home where we were living at the time and said, ‘I'll guarantee you, he's in a frame of mind. He's going to run away with this thing tomorrow.’ So when he had the disaster on 10, that's all I could think about. And it's still a lingering memory. It was rough to watch. Very, very rough to watch.”