Rory McIlroy has no time for those who say it is his destiny to wear the Green Jacket but his recent form gives him cause for optimism, he tells Ewan Murray
Rory McIlroy is aware of the allegation but the rebuttal is firm. Mitigating circumstances arent typically factored in when a wait for a major championship victory stretching back to August 2014 and an inability to capture the Masters are discussed. To the dissenters, McIlroy has it too easy. Fame, money and marriage, it is said, have doused his competitive instincts.
I dont see that, because everyone else is in the same boat, McIlroy says. Everyone out here has a nice life, why am I any different? Maybe I just portray more of a sense of happiness, I dont know. I am very happy and, whether I win or lose, I go home and I have everything thatI need but that doesnt make me anyless motivated to go out andwin.
That [winning] is what I want to do. If I was just coming out here and going through the motions I would hate it, Id want to do something else. I never want to get to the point in this game where Im not trying 100% at everything I do. So maybe I portray a sense of harmony but it definitely isnt complacency.
In reality, the trappings associated with a Hollywood lifestyle arent remotely what makes the boy from Holywood, Northern Ireland, tick. There was an episode to back up McIlroys point earlier this year. When falling short at the Dubai Desert Classic the 28yearolds visible level of dejection contradicted any sense of cosiness. He remembers it well. I went to the locker room and I nearly put my fist through a locker. I was just so angry at letting that tournament slip away. It was a great opportunity. I realise I wont get an opportunity like that every week. I was angry. Of course Iwas angry.
Happier moments were to come. McIlroys success at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two Sundays ago lifted a competitive burden it was his first tournament success in 18 months and reminded the world what this golfer at his best is like. Nobody in the game compares to McIlroy in full flow. His imminent challenge is to take an identical touch to Augusta National and the one major that has eluded him.
McIlroy is happy to contradict further assumptions. He insists, for example, that images of donning a Green Jacket do not resonate 12 months of any given year. People would think its on my mind all the time, he says. Listen, Id love the Green Jacket in the closet, to go back every year and use the champions locker room, to host dinner as the champion. Nobody could ever take that away from you. But I think about the Masters the week before I play it, because thats when I prepare for it.
The notion that the Masters somehow represents McIlroys destiny, or a logical career step, is the next to be batted away. No one is owed anything, due anything, its not my turn, he says. I dont believe in that stuff. My dad always used to say to me: If its for you, it wont go past you, and I hate that line because thats not how it works. You have to go and do it yourself. It doesnt just magically fall into your lap. Im not due anything, I dont deserve anything, everyone starts on an even playing field on Thursday morning. Whoever plays the best will win.
McIlroys caution can be linked in part to the story of Ernie Els, a player for whom a Green Jacket was supposedly an ideal fit. The South African never did prevail in the first major of the year. He went there as one of the best players in the world for a long time, as a major winner, he would play a practice round and Gary Player would come in and tell the media how well he was playing, how he just shot 64 and was going to win.
McIlroys Masters approach is a fascinating one. It relates to a comfort level whereby an event so widely anticipated doesnt have such a status in his mind as to prevent him from displaying the blissfully natural style which renders him such captivating viewing. It wasnt always thus; in the past McIlroy has appeared mentally paralysed by the scale of a Masters triumph. Now, he refuses to apply undue pressure. It wont consume him, it cant consume him.
I think thats the worst thing to do, he says. The more pressure you put yourself under there is already a lot of that from outside. You dont want to compound that. The more you can freewheel it, relish it as an opportunity to do something great and enjoy it, the better.
Ill get a lot of opportunities at this; we have been watching the Winter Olympics where people have waited four, eight years. I at least get to do it once a year. It took Phil Mickelson how many tries until he got over the line in 2004? Now he has three Green Jackets. The more you play it, the more you get comfortable not just on the course but as soon as you get inside the gates.
It is such a different week. Its an event run by the members, it isnt a normal tournament week. Thats why I always take a trip up prior because it makes you more comfortable, even to the point of saying hello to the staff and the chairman. Theres a lot of stuff you dont have to do any other week because youre not there again. At Augusta you make an effort.
If and McIlroy is adamant it has to be if he solves the Augusta conundrum it will be of his own volition. He isnt the type to pursue secrets of the Masters from former champions. I like to work things out on my own, I feel like then I take ownership. Ive never sought anyone out. Thats not me.
Then when ultimately I do conquer or win something, I will 100% own it: That was me, I know 100% what Ive done and I know how to do it again. People have offered advice and Ill take it or leave it but Ill never seek it out. Maybe Im too stubborn. If I want to figure something out Ill do it, do it, do it until I get there. Some things take a little longer thanothers.
Injury has been the key component but Mcllroy concedes he would have been surprised if he had been informed when departing Valhalla and the US PGA Championship of 2014 that he would enter the 2018 Masters having not yet claimed a fifth major title.
He was among those reduced to tears as Sergio Garca ended his major wait at Augusta last year but there has, too, been a niggling McIlroy envy, which he is candid enough to relay.
Of course, there always is, McIlroy says. Its tough because you think: That could have been me, I wish that was me. There is always an aspect of professional jealousy, be that Jordan [Spieth] winning three majors in the last three years or whatever, but its respectful as well. I 100% respect what these guys do because I know how hard it is. To be on a pace of winning one per year is phenomenal.
Part of you wants to be in their shoes. I dont mind seeing guys win a first one; I was really happy for Dustin Johnson, for example. But any time someone lifts a trophy and its not me? A fraction of me doesnt like it.
McIlroy does not shy away from the absence of his name at the business end of the Masters since the catastrophic events which befell him on the Sunday back nine in 2011. That he hasnt spurned subsequent opportunity perhaps adds to his ability to accept the lack of a Masters win from an otherwise glittering CV. Ive had four top 10s but never really contended. Id rather have been back in the box seat and seen what happened because to get in contention you have to be playing well. You cant fake it there. There are other courses where you can kind of get by and be in contention; there you cant, you have to be on with every aspect of your game.
The closest was when I played in the last group on the third day with Jordan, 2016, that didnt go as planned. Id love again to put myself in a position like that after two days because I feel like I learnt a lot that day, I took on shots that I shouldnt have. Even just to get myself into that position, I feel like Id handle that a lot better. Any time you dont do something right is a learning opportunity and more than anywhere else in the world that we play, I feel like I have learned a lot of lessons at Augusta.
I would just love to put myself in a position where I can put into practice some of the things I feel I have learned. I just want to give myself a chance. If I give myself a chance, I feel when Im in contention with all these other guys I can hold my own.
Few would begrudge him that Masters opportunity. Just dont dare suggest any link with destiny to the man himself.
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