The 28-year-old needs a Masters victory to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in that exclusive club and is determined not to have any unnecessary distractions at Augusta National this week.
To that end, McIlroy has taken the decision to cut back on the number of people in his normal-sized entourage for the season’s opening major, which gets under way on Thursday.
“I think everyone feels the same about the Masters as it’s the one tournament everyone wants to go to,” he said. “But this year I’m trying to cut that back and not have such a big entourage around me and not too many people there.
“I basically want to try and treat it like a normal week instead of having seven people in the house and renting another house for 10 people. It becomes quite a production at times and I just want to have it chilled and quiet. It might piss a few people off but, if it helps me win the Masters, I don’t mind that.”
Since setting up his opportunity to complete that set of major titles, McIlroy has finished fourth, 10th and seventh without really having been in the mix to claim a coveted Green Jacket.
“Not necessarily,” he replied to being asked if he was conscious of pressure building, even more so since Jordan Spieth also joined him and Phil Mickelson in having one missing piece in the race to become the next player to achieve the career Grand Slam.
“I’m 28 and feel as though I’ve got time on my side. But every year passes is a chance that has gotten away. I’m just happy to be part of the conversation. There’s three players that now have a chance to join that club and I’m just happy that I am one of them. I’ve got the first chance to do it (Mickelson needs the US Open and Spieth is chasing the US PGA title) and we’ll see how it goes this week.”
Paul McGinley spoke last week about how he feels McIlroy, who had this title in his grasp back in 2011 only to blow a four-shot lead as he closed with an 80, needs to improve his decision-making around this particular course to finally crack it. By the sounds of things, McIlroy knows that himself.
“Augusta more than anywhere else is about having a gameplan and sticking to it, no matter what,” he said. “It is very good at tempting you into doing a little bit much at times. It’s about having a really smart gameplan and being disciplined and strict with yourself. That’s one thing I want to try and do this year.”
Doing so, he feels, can help save crucial shots. “Sometimes I’ll go on runs at Augusta, whether it’s the front nine day or back nine another or 18 holes where two nines might add up to 74 or 75 when, if I can get round in 70 or 71, it could make a bit of a difference,” he added.
“I have looked on it year on year and, in 2014 for example, I played the tough holes really well but I think I played the par-5s in even par. My goal for the next year was to play the par 5s better and I played them in 12-under. Unfortunately, I didn’t play the tough holes as well that year.
“It’s having a balance between playing the tough holes well, hitting the middle of the greens, making par and walking to the next tee, and also trying to birdie the holes you should.”
McIlroy handed himself a timely boost for this event when he returned to winning ways with a brilliant performance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill a fortnight ago. A lot was made of a much-improved week with his putter in that event and he’ll be hoping it stays hot in the treacherous Augusta greens. But McIlroy insists that isn’t necessarily the key to claiming victory at this venue.
“If you look at the stats, everyone thinks it is putting,” he replied to being asked what aspect of his game he felt was the most important for the Masters, “but the big factor in success at Augusta is hitting greens in regulation. There’s a very high correlation between success at Augusta and greens in regulation.
“It’s not a very demanding course off the tee but, if you can average 14 greens in regulation per round, then you will have an unbelievable chance to wear a Green Jacket and that’s what all the stats suggest. We’ve looked into certain holes, broken it down. Take holes I’ve struggled on, the fourth and 11th. We’ve tracked pin positions for the last 10 years and figured out where the best position is to end up for each pin.
“Augusta is a place that can tempt you into doing too much so being disciplined with your iron play is important. You can’t go at too many pins. I’m not saying that it’s a case of going for the middle of greens because sometimes from there at Augusta it’s a tough two putt. It’s more a case of trying to be on the right side of pins.
“There’s some no-go areas but Phil Mickelson has always said that he thinks Augusta is one of the easiest places to play all year as you have certain places where you can miss it. He knows where to do that and it’s an easy up and down.”