Grand Slam-chasing Rory McIlroy has revealed he turns into a “complete p***k” in Masters week.
McIlroy offered an insight into what lies behind his calm exterior as he prepared for a third crack at claiming the victory that would see him become just the sixth player after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods to win all four of golf’s major titles.
“Stressful,” he replied in a Golf Digest interview to being asked the first thought to enter his mind when someone mentions the words “The Masters”. “I am, ask anyone who knows me, a complete p***k in the week leading up to Augusta. But they understand and know that. It’s a stressful situation.”
Only time will tell whether or not McIlroy has given himself extra cause to be stressful heading into the season’s opening men’s major on this occasion. In what has caused some eyebrows to be raised, the four-time major winner has changed his fairway woods for this week. He’s been using Callaway woods and irons since the turn of the year, but has switched to TaylorMade M2 3 and 5 woods, believing they can help him shape shots better for this particular test.
“The ball I am playing with is quite spinny and I felt I needed fairway woods for here that did not spin, also turn over a bit easier,” said McIlroy. “They fit this place better than other ones did.”
The 27-year-old, who admitted he may think twice if he was offered a second game of golf with US President Donald Trump after being criticised after doing so earlier in the year, may be going into this event lightly raced in 2017 due to a rib problem, but he’s certainly not under-prepared. “I feel good coming into this week, having played 99 holes here in two weeks,” he added.
Phil Mickelson’s pre-event press conference yesterday included the three-time Masters champion offering his views on Lexi Thompson losing out in the ANA Inspiration, the opening women’s major of the year, in California on Sunday after being hit with a four-shot penalty over a ball-marking infrigement that was called in 24 hours after it happened by an armchair viewer.
On the one hand, Mickelson, pictured above, claimed players are guilty of such offences, offering the opinion that some of his fellow players are “loose” when it comes to marking golf balls. But, on the other, he said that the result from that particular event should be reversed, with Korea’s So Yeon Ryu being asked to hand the trophy over to Thompson.
“I know a number of guys on Tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it. I mean, they will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop,” he said.
“But I think it should be handled within the Tour. I think that the Tour should go to those players and say, ‘look, we’ve noticed you’ve been a little lax in how precise you’ve been in marking the ball. We’d like you to be a little bit better at it’ and see if that doesn’t just kind of fix the thing.
“Because we’ve all marked the ball imprecisely, especially when you’re standing on the side of the ball like she was and not directly behind the ball, in line with the hole, where it’s easy to draw a line. And I think that that should have been handled within the LPGA saying, ‘hey, look, you’re a little lax in how you’re marking the ball. You need to be careful. Here’s a warning and let’s go from there’.
“But to have a tournament be decided like that, with all the scenarios going around, as far as viewers calling in, as far as it being a one‑foot putt with really no advantage, just a little bit of loose marking, if you will, something like that happens all the time, intentionally and unintentionally, I think it should be reversed. I think that she [Thompson] should be given the trophy.”
If it was based on personality, Dustin Johnson would have no chance of becoming Masters champion. His rating when it comes to that is zilch. Heck, he even struggled to come up with a description of himself when being put on the spot in the brand-new Media Centre here. As world No 1 and the game’s hottest player, though, he is unquestionably the man to beat this week. Three wins in a row, two of the World Golf Championships, make him a justified favourite.
Johnson is taking nothing for granted, though. “If I want to win here, everything’s going to have to go well for me. I’m going to have to drive it well, hit my irons well, putt it well. Everything is going to have to be really good,” said the US Open champion. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I’ve been playing the last few tournaments. But, you know, anything can happen.”
He’s finished in the top ten the last two years. “I’ve always liked the course. I always thought it suited my game very well,” he added. “The last couple years, I’ve done a little bit better and I’m looking forward to giving myself a chance to win on Sunday.”
Aiming to do likewise, Jordan Spieth made a birdie-2 yesterday at the short 12th, where he ran up a triple-bogey 7 in losing a five-shot lead as he missed out on claiming back-to-back wins here. “It was about that far [indicating a foot],” said Spieth, smiling. “I turned to the crowd and said, ‘I really could have used that one about 12 months ago’, to some significant laughter.” Is he a man on a mission this week? “I’m excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up,” added the Texan. “I’ve got many opportunities to really create more great memories on the back nine of Augusta, which we’ve had in the past on Sunday. And, if it happens this year, fantastic.”
Hideki Matsuyama, the world No 4, is hoping his game is starting to come back at just the right time, having gone off the boil since he won five times, including the WGC-HSBC Champions, over the winter. “Compared to last November and December, my game isn’t at that same level right now,” said Matsuyama, who went out in the second final group 12 months ago before tying for seventh spot behind Danny Willett.
“However, since the Match Play Championship in Austin, I’ve been working hard and seeing some improvement. I’ve put a lot of energy, a lot of work into preparing for this week, and hopefully on Sunday, when I walk off the 18th green, I can be 100 per cent satisfied with the way I play.”