Rory McIlroy explains best Masters strategy - 'It feels like a very negative way to think, but it's the way to play around this place'

It would be stretching things to claim he’s tried 13 different strategies so far without managing to find that recipe for success in The Masters, but Rory McIlroy has certainly come up with an array of battleplans for that drive up Magnolia Lane to Augusta National.

In his first few attempts to claim a Green Jacket, he just went out with all guns blazing and that approach was set to pay dividends as early as his third visit in 2011 until a closing 80 left him licking his wounds.

Since then, and especially so after this became the missing link in his quest to complete a career grand slam, the Northern Irishman has tried just about everything you could think of to get over that line in the season’s opening major.

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He even sounded like a Zen master heading into the 2019 event as he extolled the virtues of meditation and mindfulness only to finish outside the top 20 on that occasion - one of his worst efforts in the season’s opening major apart from two missed cuts.

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media in the build up to the 86th edition of The Masters. Picture: Augusta National Golf Club

Having suffered the second of those disappointing early exits 12 months ago following rounds of 76-74, McIlroy has been thinking again about what he needs to do to crack this particular code and he’s prepared to give it a go despite it goes against his basic golfing instinct.

“Just patience, discipline, don't make big numbers,” said the four-time major winner of his planned approach on this occasion. “It feels like a very negative way to think, but it's the way to play around this place. You don't have to do anything spectacular.

“I played with D.J. (Dustin Johnson) in the first two rounds when he won here in 2020. I think he was 12-under after two days, and I got off the golf course thinking 12-under is a helluva score after two days here, but I wasn't in awe of the way he played.

“It's just he did the right things and he put it in the right spots, and he holed a few putts and he took advantage of the par-5s, and he basically did everything that this golf course asks of you.

“That's what this place is all about. It's as much of a chess game as anything else, and it's just about putting yourself in the right positions and being disciplined and being patient and knowing that pars are good.”

Agreeing that was against his nature on a golf course, he added: “It feels like playing very negatively, playing away from trouble, not firing at flagsticks, not being aggressive. It feels like a negative game plan, but it's not. It's just a smart game plan. It's playing the percentages.

“Look, Sunday, if you need to take risks, you take risks obviously, but for the first 54 holes, you just have to stay as disciplined as possible. Yeah, that goes against my nature a little bit, so it is something I have to really work hard on.”

McIlroy, who will have one-year-old daughter Poppy with him for Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, insisted that a missed cut in last week’s Valero Texas Open doesn’t indicate that he’s struggling to find his best form.

“It feels in good shape,” he said of his game. “I think it's felt better than the results have maybe suggested the last few weeks. The big key here, if you look at all the previous winners, especially over the last five to ten years, is their iron play and their approach play has separated them from the field. That's a really important part of your play this week.

“It tempts you into going for flags that you shouldn't go for. It's about being very disciplined with your approach play, knowing that, if you hit a wedge to 20 or 30 feet, that's okay. Middle of the greens, you hole a few putts, that's what it's about. It's about hitting greens. It's about playing to the fat part of the green, being somewhat conservative.

“I think that's what wins you Masters. You see the highlights of people hitting heroic golf shots around here, but that's just one golf shot. The rest of the time, they're doing the right things and being patient and being disciplined, and that's what wins you Green Jackets.”

An hour-and-a-half after McIlroy had been sitting in the same chair, Tiger Woods insisted he can claim his sixth one despite the fact his only event since seriously injuring his right leg in a car crash 14 months ago was in the PNC Championship with son Charlie.

“Look, Tiger has been wonderful for us all in this room,” said McIlroy of the 15-time major winner. “He creates attention on the game of golf that no one else can. That's great for his peers. It's great for the media. It's great for this golf club. It's great for everyone. So, any time Tiger Woods is involved, it's a wonderful thing.

“I think in terms of the competitive nature of it, if he's in the field or not, I don't think it really changes much. You're trying to focus on yourself, and he can't stop you shooting a 67 if you play well. It's not like any other sport. So, I don't think that changes much.

“I've spent a little bit of time with him at home, and the golf is there. He's hitting it well. He's chipping well. He's sharp. It's just the physical demand of getting around 72 holes here this week. That's probably the question mark. But the golf game is there. So, would I be surprised? No, I'm not surprised at anything he does anymore.”

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