The 29-year-old is a different person to the one that has failed in four attempts so far to become just the sixth player to complete a career grand slam. A lack of patience and not having the resolve required on the day were factors in the Green Jacket remaining that missing link.
As he bids once again to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the sport’s annals, no-one can accuse McIlroy of sitting on his backside and doing nothing since he lost out to Patrick Reed, pictured, as the pair found themselves in the last group here in the final round 12 months ago.
The Northern Irishman has worked hard on his game and, equally important, adopting a new psychological perspective. He no longer frets about results. That’s helped him record seven top-10 finishes this year, including a win in the Players Championship.
In his press conference for the 83rd Masters, McIlroy said he felt every box – body, mind and game – had been ticked heading into the event. Before boarding the first tee on Thursday in the company of Rickie Fowler and Cameron Smith, the four-time major winner will be mixing his final swing preparations with some juggling and meditating.
“I’m not going to go and live with the monks for a couple months in Nepal,” he joked, “but my routine now consists of meditation, juggling, mind training – all the stuff to get yourself in the right place. I meditated for 20 minutes on the Sunday morning of the Players. It’s definitely something that has helped from time to time. Especially in situations where you need your mind to be right.
“I’ve dabbled in it over the years and I’ve needed it from time to time. But I never fully immersed myself in it. It’s searching until you find what resonates with you. You know, maybe what resonates with me is isn’t going to resonate with someone else, but I found what I feel is the best path forward for me and I’ve committed to it. It’s still so early in the process.
“I just felt for me to live a healthier life and not just with my career, but away from the golf course, I needed some perspective and I needed to separate the sort of two lives that I have. I’ve had some help on the way. I started to use a facility down in Jupiter [where he now lives in Florida] called CIHP, and the medical director there, Dr Clayton Skaggs, he’s with me this week.
“I was at a point last year where I didn’t really have anyone specifically looking after my body, looking after my exercise. It’s been a fun start to it and I’m looking forward to keeping going.
“There’s mechanisms that you can put in place that help you achieve your goals, that aren’t just about the result. It’s about the process of getting to that point. It’s not as if I’m coming here not to try and win the golf tournament, but I know if I have the right attitude and I have my goals that I want to achieve this year, the by‑product could be winning this golf tournament.
“It’s perspective. It’s perception. I think I’ve had a healthy dose of perspective this year, and that’s helped, either with great results like The Players, or undesirable results of not being able to finish a tournament off; being able to put both of those things in perspective have been a good thing.”
Thunderstorms that caused practice to be halted on both Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning have softened the course, something that could favour McIlroy, who may be lacking that Green Jacket in his wardrobe but has an impressive record here, nonetheless, with five top 10s in the last five years. Add in that sparkling form this year and he’s in good fettle for this test.
“You always feel like you’re on the right path and whatever you’re working on is the way forward. But to get that validation, the win at The Players, the good play that I’ve had over the first four months of the year, it just proves to me that what I’m doing are the right things for me,” he added.
“They might not be the right things for other people, but I think I’ve found a formula that works for me, and I’m going to persist with it and I’m going to stick to it. It’s helped me play some of the best golf of my career so far this year and hopefully that will continue.
“I know I’ve played well enough and I’ve shot enough good scores around here over the years that, if I can put my best effort forward, I’m going to have a good chance to do well here.
“I’m not getting ahead of myself. Not thinking about the tee shot on Thursday or thinking about what is to come this week. I would dearly love to win this tournament one day. If it doesn’t happen this week, that’s totally fine, I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it. But I’m happy with where everything is - body, mind, game.”