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Augusta Masters Golf: Rory McIlroy Radiates Confidence In Bid for Career Grand Slam

Rory McIlroy had played well at PGA National and Bay Hill earlier this year, finished in the top 20 at The Players Championship and recently spent time in Las Vegas with renowned coach Butch Harmon, which paid dividends with a third-place finish last week at the Texas Open

AP
Rory McIlroy is fancying his chances at the Augusta Masters 2024. Photo: AP
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Rory McIlroy made that familiar turn off Washington Road and onto Magnolia Lane a year ago, the one that seems to suck in those fortunate enough to make it back in time, and felt as certain as ever that it was his time to win the Masters. (More Sports News)

After all, McIlroy had been playing well. His confidence was soaring. He had a belief in himself that was more than just a hunch.

More like a premonition.

Yet by Friday afternoon, when storms would fell three towering Georgia pines and cause the second round to push into the weekend, all those positive vibes had disappeared. After opening with an even-par 72, and still believing he was oh-so-close to stringing it all together, McIlroy shot a second-round 77 and missed the cut.

His wait to win the green jacket, and complete the career Grand Slam, had stretched to a full decade.

“No question, he'll do it at some point. He's just — Rory's too talented, too good,” said Tiger Woods, who along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are the only players to have completed the modern slam.

“He's going to be playing this event for a very long time," Woods added. “He'll get it done. It's just a matter of when.”

Might be this week.

Much like last year, McIlroy drove down Magnolia Lane on Tuesday feeling good about his game. He had played well at PGA National and Bay Hill earlier this year, finished in the top 20 at The Players Championship and recently spent time in Las Vegas with renowned coach Butch Harmon, which paid dividends with a third-place finish last week at the Texas Open.

That's not an event McIlroy typically plays before the Masters, but it was part of a plan put in place months ago. The idea was to play more often earlier in the year, getting his game sharp not only for Augusta National but the rest of the majors as well.

“This is my 16th start in the Masters, so I feel like I've done it quite a few different ways,” McIlroy explained, “and I guess just trying to bring a little bit of normalcy into what I sort of try to do week in, week out. I play 25 weeks a year, and there's no point in doing anything different this week compared to other weeks, I guess.”

Rather than arriving early and laboring through practice rounds, McIlroy instead popped into Augusta National last week for a two-day scouting trip before heading to Texas. In fact, he skipped Monday's practice round altogether — even Woods played nine that day — and was planning to play just nine holes by himself on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I feel like I've already got most of my prep work done. So it's just about going out there and being relaxed and being in the right frame of mind,” McIlroy said, “and the more I can do that, the more I'll be able to execute on the golf course.”

He's come so close so often that nobody would fault McIlroy if his frame of mind these days was as skewed as a snap hook into Rae's Creek. He had a four-year streak of finishing in the top 10 beginning in 2014, the year he won the British Open and PGA Championship. He was fifth on an eerily empty course in 2020, when the pandemic pushed the Masters into the fall. Two years ago, a blistering final-round 64 still left him three shots back of Scottie Scheffler.

Over time, the 18-year-old Northern Irishman with the cherubic face and limitless potential, who ticked off those first four major championships in a four-year span, has grown up. McIlroy is 34 now, leaner and stronger but also wiser, and it's almost hard to believe he has spent spent nearly a third of his life chasing the only major to elude him so far.

“If I cast my mind back to 18-year-old Rory and I'm driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time, how would I feel and I think? It's just always trying to go back to being grateful and feeling incredibly lucky that you can be a part of this tournament," he said Tuesday. "Thankfully, I've improved a bit since my first start here, and I feel like I've got all the tools to do well this week.

“But, again, to bring those tools out, I think one of the most important things is to enjoy it,” McIlroy added with a smile, "and smell the — I guess not the roses, the azaleas along the way."

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