AUGUSTA — Here we go again.
Another Masters, another chance for Rory McIlroy to complete the career grand slam by capturing the final major that has so eluded him.
U.S. Open – 2011. Check.
PGA Championship – 2012 and 2014. Check.
British Open – 2014. Check.
Masters – No check.
There have been chances to cement his place in golf history, but they oozed from beneath his feet before fully cured.
No need to re-live the pain of 2011 when McIlroy lead the Masters each of the first three rounds, including a four-shot advantage headed into the final day, only to shoot an 80 on Sunday. It’s that scar tissue that has given McIlroy the grit – his word for the trait of those successful in their fields – to believe his day will come.
“I think my grit has come from my failures, and I don’t have to look any further than this place in 2011,” McIlroy said Tuesday before his 12th Masters. "I learned a lot from that day. I learned a lot in terms of what I needed to be and what I didn’t need to be.
“… I’ve had a nice little bit of success in this game, but I have failed a hell of a lot more than I have succeeded in this game. And that is why I have succeeded, is because I went through those tough patches, and you need to. You need to go through those tough patches to learn. So, I feel like that’s where I’ve got my persistence or grit from.”
McIlroy has five top-10 finishes in this previous 11 Masters. He best finish was fourth in 2015. He followed with three more top-10 finishes before a tie for 21st last year.
It’s been more than six years since McIlroy hoisted a major trophy. Despite the fact that McIlroy was ranked No. 1 earlier this year – before the coronavirus changed the world - he enters the Masters below the radar. The narrative of the golf world has turned to the fascination with Bryson DeChambeau and his new-found ridiculous length. McIlroy is intrigued as everyone with how DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Open champion, might take apart Augusta National. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a victory.
“If you look at Bryson’s strokes gained numbers at the U.S. Open, strokes gained around the green and strokes gained putting was better than strokes gained off the tee,” McIlroy said. “He did drive it really well, but at the same time you need to back that up with all other aspects of your game. If trophies were handed out just for how far you hit it and how much ball speed you have, then I’d be worried. But there’s still a lot of different aspects that you need to master in this game."
At age 31, McIlroy can look at one player in particular as his continues to grind to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson didn’t win his first major until the age of 33, with the 2004 Masters. It would be the first of three green jackets. Mickelson also won one PGA Championship and one British Open, leaving him a U.S. Open shy of a career grand slam of his own.
“First of all, there’s not much advice I can give him,” Mickelson said. "The guy is as complete a player as there is, as well as smart, knowledgeable and works hard. So, he’ll win and complete the grand slam. He’s too great a player not to.
“I remember when I was trying to win a major, any major, and I struggled for many years, but I always knew and believed it would happen, and eventually at age 33 it eventually did. He has so many majors already and such a strong game that winning a Masters will happen. And when it does, I think he’s going to win a few.”
Those words are nice. However, plenty of compliments have been paid to other greats of the game who failed to win the Masters, said McIlroy, currently ranked No. 5 in the world.
Results are what matter.
“I’ve always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well,” McIlroy said. “It’s just a matter of, you know, getting out of my own way and letting it happen. … You have to go out and earn it. You can’t just rely on people saying that you’re going to win one.”