As the weather prepares to break at Augusta National –thunderstorms are expected for today’s first official practice round before returning on Wednesday and Thursday – Rory McIlroy has laid his cards on the table.
The Northern Irishman has two US PGA titles, one US Open crown and one Open Championship victory under his belt, but the Masters is the missing link that will be driving him for however long it might take to complete golf’s Grand Slam.
“I’d love to say my life is already fulfilled, with everything that’s happened, and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that,” McIlroy said in an interview with ESPN in the build-up to the season’s opening major.
“But if I didn’t have a Green Jacket, there’d be a tiny piece that would just be missing. It really would be. I’d be lying if I said [otherwise]. I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.”
The 27-year-old has chalked up top-10 finishes in his two attempts thus far to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in that career Grand Slam club. He’s been lightly raced coming into this year’s event, having been forced to miss part of his planned early-season schedule due to a rib injury.
However, McIlroy insists that he is happy with his preparation and reckons an early exit from his final warm-up event – the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas – could well work in his favour this week.
“It’s giving me a chance to prepare a little bit better,” he said. “I feel like I’ve worked a lot on my short game. If anything, I feel like that part of my game is as sharp as it has been ever going into Augusta, so that’s a good thing.
“Right now I can’t see a downside to not having played as much as I planned to. I feel really healthy. And freshness could help, especially mentally. Mentally, going in there and not being drained is a good thing as well.”
Danny Willett, the defending champion, took the chance to reminisce in some peace and quiet when he arrived here on Saturday, before joining other former winners to watch some potential stars of the future in yesterday’s Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
“It was really nice,” said the Yorkshireman of making the journey up Magnolia Lane as holder of the Green Jacket. “We decided to come yesterday to take it all in. It was really quiet. Me and Jon [caddie Jonathan Smart] walked round and we had one of the local caddies with us.
“We walked the back nine and chucked balls down where we hit some shots from last year. It was nice to relive it when it was quite quiet and you can take it all in before the storm starts from tomorrow onwards for the week.
“It is great to be back. It’s a special place and it’s even more special now being able to host champions dinner on Tuesday and to be named on tee as defending champion means it is going to be a great week.”
While Willett was speaking on a glorious spring day in Georgia, the outlook for this week is a mixed bag. There’s a 70 per cent chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms today, with similar conditions expected on both Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
Friday is set to be cloudy, breezy and cooler before it picks up again for Saturday and Sunday, when the final two rounds are expected to be played in sunny conditions. Sunday, in particular, should see a return of warmer weather.