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Chasing history

Masters 2024: In bid to complete career grand slam, Rory McIlroy has booster in Tiger Woods: 'He'll get it done'

April 09, 2024

Rory McIlroy is making his 10th start at Augusta National.

Erick W. Rasco

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s the first piece of advice we all get when patience rather than overreaction is required: Take a breath and count to 10. Which is what Rory McIlroy has done, at least metaphorically.

Already a past winner of the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, the Northern Irishman will this week embark on a 10th attempt to win the Masters and become only the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam. Should McIlroy end his decade of frustration and claim victory come Sunday evening he will, at one of golf’s most private clubs, join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in what is surely the most exclusive golf clique of all.

Five days out, however, that dream remains just that. As so many have discovered over the years, nothing is ever guaranteed in golf and certainly not at a venue as capricious as Augusta National. Ask Greg Norman and Ernie Els. Armed with games that, on paper, looked guaranteed to add multiple green jackets to their wardrobes, neither did so.

So far, at least, McIlroy’s record is the only major missing from his resume has followed a script eerily similar to that written by Norman and Els. He’s had chances. Six times in the last nine years he has finished inside the top 10 at the Masters, even if his best opportunity remains 2011. Leading with nine-holes to play, the then-21-year old collapsed to a final round of 80 and a T-15 finish.

So it was no surprise that, first question up in his pre-tournament press conference, McIlroy was asked to “take us through your off-season thoughts on how you developed your plan for bringing out your best performance in this year's tournament?”

“This is my 16th start in the Masters, so I feel like I've done it quite a few different ways” came McIlroy’s reply. “I guess just trying to bring a little bit of normalcy into what I sort of try to do week in, week out. I play 25 weeks a year, and there's no point in doing anything different this week compared to other weeks.

“I usually try to get into tournaments either Monday nights or Tuesday mornings, and that’s what I've done this week. I came up here last week to play two practice rounds. I feel like I've already got most of my prep work done. So it's just about going out there and being relaxed and being in the right frame of mind. And the more I can do that, the more I'll be able to execute on the golf course.”

A familiar response to an equally familiar question, before the subject at hand veered off into just what McIlroy has been working on with swing coach, Butch Harmon. Then, completely off-topic, whether or not players or rules officials should ultimately be responsible for the numbers written on scorecards (he thinks players, but arithmetical errors should not necessarily lead to disqualification). But it wasn’t long before the largest living land animal in the room was further addressed, the question rambling and roaming before reaching its destination.

“From a mentality and emotional perspective in regards to attitude, when you come into this week, how do you manage wanting to win this tournament but not the desire being so big that it becomes an obstacle?”

“I would say not trying to win it from the first tee shot,” responded McIlroy. “That's something I've tried to learn. It's a 72-hole golf tournament. I've won from 10 strokes back going into the weekend. There's loads of different ways to do it. This course gets you to chase things a little more than other courses if you make a bogey or if you get yourself out of position. It always tempts you to do something you think you can do. But I’m pretty confident in my golf game. I think I can do most things, but sometimes you just have to take the conservative route and be a little more disciplined and patient. That’s something that I've really tried to learn at this tournament over the years.”

Still, whatever transpires over the coming days, McIlroy has at least one booster who knows a thing or two about finished first in the Masters.

“No question, he'll do it at some point,” said Woods, a five-time winner here. “Rory's too talented, too good. He's going to be playing this event for a very long time. He'll get it done. It's just a matter of when. I think Rory will be a great Masters champion one day, and it could be this week. You never know. I just think that the talent he has, the way he plays the game and how the golf course fits his eye, it's just a matter of time.”

Ten years and counting to be exact.