Rory McIlroy shakes up Masters prep in search of elusive green jacket

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s been nearly 10 years.

Ten long, exhausting, sometimes heartbreaking and exasperating years that probably feel more like 20 to Rory McIlroy. In his efforts to win a Masters, to change his fortunes, he has tried everything but ride a horse down Magnolia Lane.

And until the 34-year-old Northern Irishman wins a green jacket, it’s going to be an elephant in every room he enters. Because Augusta National is seemingly made for his game.

And he’s due. Man is he due.

McIlroy needs to win a Masters to become just the sixth player in the history of the sport to complete a career grand slam. He already has a U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship on his résumé.

All that’s missing is a green jacket and a nameplate on a locker in the Augusta National Champion’s Locker Room. This week will mark McIlroy’s 10th attempt to complete the career slam at Augusta.

Will he finally do it this week? Who knows?

Will it ever happen considering the pressure that continues to mount?

“No question he’ll do it at some point,” Tiger Woods, a five-time Masters winner, said Tuesday. “Rory’s too talented, too good. He’s going to be playing this event for a very long time. He’ll get it done. It’s just a matter of when. I think that Rory will be a great Masters champion one day, and it could be this week.”

Music to McIlroy’s ears when he heard of Woods’ assessment.

Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot on the 14th hole during Tuesday’s practice round at the Masters at Augusta National. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s flattering,” McIlroy said. “It’s nice to hear, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game say something like that. … Does that mean that it’s going to happen? Obviously not.

“But he’s been around the game long enough to know that I at least have the potential to do it. I know I’ve got the potential to do it, too. It’s not as if I haven’t been a pretty good player for the last couple of decades.”

McIlroy has done some things to shake up his Masters prep.

First and foremost, he made a trip to Las Vegas to visit with Butch Harmon, the renowned swing coach who, among many other things, helped Woods become the star he became early in his career.

“He is part sort of psychologist, part swing coach,” McIlroy said. “I always joke you spend four hours with Butch and you go away with two swing tips and 30 stories, but you always go away hitting the ball better than when you came.”

Rory McIlroy says he’s going to try to have more fun during this Masters. Getty Images

McIlroy went to Harmon battling a two-way miss, trying to figure out how to straighten himself out with more consistency.

“It was really beneficial trip for the technical side of things,” he said. “But it’s also just spending time around someone like that, that’s coached a lot of the best players in the world, and sort of him giving you his blessing on things, I think that’s nice validation as well.”

McIlroy also changed his recent preparation by playing the week before the Masters.

He finished third at last week’s Valero Texas Open, though he was never truly in contention to win.

Rory McIlroy hits a one-handed put while holding a yardage book during a practice round at Augusta National. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel and NBC analyst, spoke of a “pattern” with McIlroy and the Masters.

“Every time, he seems to play his worst golf when it means the most,” Chamblee said. “His last five Masters, he’s averaged 73.8 in the first round. That speaks to not being in the right place mentally. But … when he does manage to get himself into a good place, say in 2018 when he was second after 54 holes, he shot 74 on Saturday. In 2016 he was second after 36 holes, and he shot 77 Saturday.

“He plays his best when it means the least, and he plays his worst when it means the most. Now, we can dive in and parse out technical reasons why that is, but the larger landscape is it’s just mental. I think him trying to get over that hurdle and become the sixth person to win the grand slam is mentally the most compelling thing that will take place at the Masters.”

McIlroy said one of his goals this week is “not trying to win it from the first tee shot.”

He, too, has emphasized trying to have more fun as a way to relax himself.

“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, [and] it’s just always trying to go back to being grateful and feeling incredibly lucky that you can be a part of this tournament and you get to compete in it every year,” McIlroy said. “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 and smell the … I guess not the roses, the azaleas along the way.”

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