News & ToursApril 7, 2015

Overshadowed by Tiger's reappearance, Rory McIlroy is ready to win

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He might be the world's top-ranked golfer, but when it comes to public and media interest -- in the U.S. especially -- Rory McIlroy is still no number 111. Not yet anyway. Both spent time in the Masters media center today with the numerical also-ran Tiger Woods emerging victorious by 7-2. Rory was asked seven Tiger-related questions; Tiger responded to only two in which the Irishman featured.

Indeed, despite his favored status and the fact that he is right now quite clearly the best player on the planet, McIlroy wasn't tooting too many horns with regard to his chances of completing the career Grand Slam come Sunday evening. Pressed to reveal whom he sees as favorite this week, the reigning Open and PGA champion hemmed and hawed only a little before nominating two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

"He's won here two of the last three years," pointed out McIlroy. "Perfect game for this course. Been playing really well. Seems confident every time he tees up. If you're looking for someone that will do well this week, Bubba is the main guy."

And when it came to yet another Tiger question, McIlroy was even quicker to acknowledge that the 14-time major champion "was a hero of mine growing up."

View image |

All of which can appropriately be labeled "deflecting attention." But behind the "aw shucks" facade, there remained a quiet assurance about the man the bookies feel will soon acquire his fifth major title. Yes, he admitted to many mistakes in his six previous visits to Augusta National. But if the now 25-year old Belfast boy's previous history is anything to go by, few if any are likely to be repeated.

Last year, by way of example, McIlroy made six 6s, four on par-5s and two on par-4s. Nonsensically for someone owning his prodigious length, he was but level par for the par 5s in 2014 -- "Bubba played them eight under and he beat me by eight shots." And in each of the last five years he has had one round of at least 77.

The easy conclusion is that McIlroy has attacked too much and paid the price for his impetuousness. But the problem, according to the man himself, is exactly the opposite. "I learned quite quickly that Augusta National is a second-shot course," he said. "But that made me tentative over iron shots the first couple of years. I have to learn to be more aggressive to my spots. Instead of looking at a pin and thinking of the places not to miss, I need to think more about where to hit it.

"I may have shown the course too much respect at times rather than playing my normal game. That's the biggest thing I've learned: just try and get it out of your head where you are and what it means and just try to execute shots like you normally do."

View image |  Still, this session with his close personal friends in the media wasn't all about things that have gone pear-shaped and the prospect of someone other than himself slipping into golf's most-iconic garment. McIlroy left the assembled throng on a positive note. "I said this in Florida and I said it again last week: 'If Augusta was to start tomorrow, I'd be OK. I'm ready. I've been ready for this thing to start for a week already." Alrighty, with less than two days to go before he tees off at 10:41 a.m. on Thursday morning in the company of Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore, all he has to do is remain patient.

More from The Loop