LONDON – It must be difficult telling close friends they can’t come to Augusta, and particularly when, as Paul McGinley evocatively puts it, you’re standing on the edge of history.
But Rory McIlroy has shown another side to his easy-going nature this week and cut down dramatically on his entourage at the Masters, as he prepares for his fourth attempt at the career Grand Slam.
“I’m going to upset a few people, but if I end up winning the green jacket, I won’t mind that,” he said. “The problem is it’s the tournament everyone wants to go to, and it can become quite a production, with seven people in one house and 10 in another. This year, I want it to be chilled and quiet.”
The Northern Irishman knows it will be anything but once he steps on to the grounds at Augusta. As if there wasn’t enough pressure trying to become just the sixth player to complete the Slam, he’s now the tournament favourite ¬following his stunning victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.
“That showed me my game is in the right order for Augusta,” said McIlroy. “You want to see you can execute certain shots under the gun on Sunday, and I did that.
“As for the other bit, I’m 28 and it’s important I remember I’ve got plenty of good years left. I realise every year that passes is another chance that got away, but I’m just delighted to be part of this conversation.
“There are only three active players who can do it (Phil Mickelson needs to win the US Open and Jordan Spieth the USPGA), and I’m thrilled to be one of them. I’m first up as well, so let’s see how it goes.”
In his three attempts so far, McIlroy finished fourth in 2015, tied 10th the following year and tied seventh last year, without looking like winning.
What’s the missing piece to get over the line in his 10th Masters?
“It’s just a case of putting it all together,’ he said. “Sometimes I’ll go on bad runs where two nines on separate days will add up to a 74 or a 75, and it makes all the difference if you can turn them into a 70 or 71.
“In 2014 I played the tough holes well, but played the par fives in even par. So, my goal the next year was to play the long holes better, and I played them in 12 under. Unfortunately, I didn’t play the tough holes as well.
“It’s finding that balance, hitting the middle of greens, making par and walking to the next tee, and birdieing the holes you should.”
Over the years, two holes in particular have given him difficulty. To be fair, the fourth and 11th give most players problems, and it’s a sign of his attention to detail that Rory has gone back over the past decade to source every flag location.
“Augusta is about having a game plan and sticking to it,” he said. “It’s very good at tempting you to do too much, but if you prepare well you can be disciplined, and that’s one thing I want to try to do.
“Everyone thinks it’s about putting, but if you can hit 14 greens in regulation, you have an unbelievable chance to wear a green jacket,” McIlroy said.