One statistic, unknown to Rory McIlroy until this week, shows just how close he may be to completing his career Grand Slam with an elusive Masters championship.
McIlroy has the fourth best all-time career scoring average at the Masters with a 71.82. He trails only four-time winner Tiger Woods (70.86), three-time winner Phil Mickelson (71.24) and Jason Day (71.56).
“I play well here,” McIlroy said. “I just haven’t played well enough. I haven’t gotten myself – that one year back in 2011 where I had a great chance and I didn’t finish it off.”
Oh no, not a mention of 2011 again.
McIlroy was on the verge of his first major championship with a four-shot lead headed into the final round of that Masters. The tournament was his to win. He lost. A final-round 80 left him in a tie for 15th, 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
McIlroy went on to win the 2011 U.S. Open. And the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships. And the 2014 British Open. Three down, one to go.
McIlroy’s best finish at the Masters came in 2015 when he closed with a final round of 66, to finish fourth, four shots behind winner Jordan Spieth. McIlroy notes he finished the last 45 holes of that tournament 15-under par. He is determined not to let a slow start get him again.
“Sometimes I feel like I've given this golf course a little too much respect, and that goes back to the ‑‑ back to what I was saying about being a slow starter,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes you plod away and you make your pars and think you're doing okay, but you look at the board and you might be seven or eight back, someone's got off to a hot start.
“So you got to remember, last year I shot 72 in that real windy first day, and Charley Hoffman had shot 65. I thought I played pretty well, but all of a sudden you're seven back with three rounds to go. So you don't want to put too much pressure on yourself to start off fast, but you want to be there or thereabouts after the first couple of days.
“So I have gotten in my way here before, but I think because I'm a little more comfortable on the golf course and comfortable in my game, I don't think that will happen this week.”
McIlroy tied for seventh last year, six shots behind playoff winner Sergio Garcia.
The preparation for this year’s opportunity to finish the Grand Slam – and join the elite group of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods – has seen McIlroy play Augusta National a lot. He said he has been around the club plenty in the past five or six weeks, staying on property at times, and playing with members. He said he played 54 holes on Wednesday and Thursday last week.
McIlroy has been playing a lot of tournaments in advance of this Masters as well. He said that was the plan last year until he was derailed by injury. This will be McIlroy’s ninth tournament of the year, including six on the PGA Tour and a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.
McIlroy, once the No. 1 golfer in the world, is currently ranked seventh. He joins Mickelson, who needs a U.S. Open title, and Jordan Spieth, who needs a PGA Championship, to close out the Grand Slam.
“I think you have to embrace that,” McIlroy said. “You have to embrace and relish the opportunity that is put in front of you and go out and grab it.”
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