Rory McIlroy relaxed about grand slam hype

The hype started last July, the night before Rory McIlroy won the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool to complete the third leg of the career grand slam.

Rory McIlroy will bid to become only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam. Picture: Getty

It only intensified when he won his next two tournaments as well, claiming a first World Golf Championship title in the Bridgestone Invitational and then securing a fourth major title in the US PGA Championship.

Just about the only thing that could take the spotlight off the world No 1 would be Tiger Woods turning up at Augusta National next week, shooting two rounds in the 80s, then announcing his retirement.

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That scenario is not as outlandish at it would have been a year ago, when Woods announced he would miss the Masters for the first time in his career after undergoing back surgery.

But after an injury-ravaged season the 14-time major winner has started just two tournaments in 2015, shooting an 82 to miss the cut in the first and lasting just 11 holes of the second before withdrawing.

Woods then announced he was taking a break from competitive action until his game was back up to scratch, but played a practice round at Augusta on 31 March to raise hopes he would attempt to win a fifth green jacket.

However, even the 39-year-old’s most ardent fans would be hard pushed to argue about odds of 50/1 in some places about Woods winning his first major since 2008, while McIlroy is a 5/1 favourite who is not sure he should be.

“Given how I’ve been playing, I guess if you go on form then probably no,” McIlroy said in reference to a missed cut and finishes of ninth and 11th in his last three events.

“But it depends how far you take that form back and you’ve got to look at previous results there and all sorts of stuff. I’m not a bookmaker.”

McIlroy’s previous results at Augusta do not make for great reading with just one top ten – last year’s tie for eighth – in six appearances, although he famously held a four-shot lead heading into the final round in 2011.

That lead was down to one by the turn and a wildly hooked drive on the tenth precipitated a meltdown that culminated in a closing round of 80 to finish joint 15th, ten shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.

“Even though I was one ahead going into the back nine, there was a lot of guys coming after me,” McIlroy recalled recently. “It was the first time I had ever been in that situation in a major and at Augusta. It all got a little too much.

“You really just have to focus on yourself and try to block all of it out.

“That’s the thing I learned, especially there because you can start to watch the leaderboards and start to listen to where the roars are coming from and start to wonder who that was, what they did, what score does that get them to, instead of just solely focusing on yourself and trying to play the best golf that you can and hopefully that’s good enough.”

If McIlroy’s best proves good enough this year he will become just the sixth player to have won all four major titles after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.

He would also be the first Irishman to win at Augusta and the first European since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, not to mention almost certainly the first to win 12 months after suffering the embarrassment of being outscored by his marker – Augusta member Jeff Knox – in the third round.

If he thought the hype was big beforehand, just imagine what it would be like if he won his first green jacket and headed to the US Open at Chambers Bay in June seeking to complete the “Rory Slam”. 
“I feel like I did get a lot of questions about Augusta even at the start of the year but that’s natural,” McIlroy said. “It’s a big deal what I’m trying to achieve over there. I think every year there’s always such build-up and hype towards Augusta. I think that hasn’t changed. I just think that this year, at least for now, I’m the build-up, the centre of that hype.

“Whether Tiger decides to play or not, that could change things a little bit and there would be a lot of attention on that as well. But I don’t feel like it’s any different.

“I’ve got a chance to go to Augusta and do something very few players in this game have done before. That adds a little bit of spice to it but I don’t feel any extra pressure.”