Decade after Masters collapse, Rory McIlroy struggles into Augusta
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by Jim SLATER
AUGUSTA - Rory McIlroy is struggling to find consistency ahead of the 85th Masters, chasing the green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam a decade after an epic Augusta National collapse.
The 31-year-old from Northern Ireland hasn't won a major title since 2014 but has six top-10 Masters finishes in the past seven years, including a share of fifth last November after a horrid opening 75.
"I struggled there on the first day, just sort of started to trust myself a little bit and found something in between that first and second round. I played really well from then on in," McIlroy said after missing the cut at The Players Championship.
"I certainly have like an idea in my head of the way I want to play that golf course, and I felt like I really made some good strides in November. But if you're not hitting the shots, then it doesn't make any difference.
"First and foremost I have to be able to hit the shots and get the ball starting on my line and control the flight and control the spin. At the minute I'm struggling to do that, and if you can't do that going to Augusta, you've got no chance."
Four-time major winner McIlroy, ranked 11th, wouldn't advance from group play at the WGC Match Play in his last tuneup for a 10th anniversary trip to Augusta National from his final-round flop.
In 2011, McIlroy led by four strokes entering the final round, then fired a final-round 80 and settled for a share of 15th. Clinging to the lead on the 10th tee, he hooked a tee shot way left and his title bid fell apart.
Two months later, he won the US Open at Congressional in record-setting fashion for his first major title.
And just as he battled back from an epic failure 10 years ago, he's not willing to declare his glory days behind him just yet.
"You have to be an eternal optimist in this game and I truly believe that my best days are ahead of me," McIlroy said. "You have to believe that. There's no point in me being out here if I didn't think that."
But these days, he's battling inconsistency after trying to make swing changes to add length after seeing Bryson DeChambeau win the US Open last September.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open," McIlroy said. "I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing, and I maybe, to the detriment a little bit of my swing, I got there but I just need to maybe rein it back in a little bit."
- 'Take a bit of time' -
The search for the right mix has been a frustrating one for McIlroy so far.
"It's a very difficult game at times and I feel like it's testing me a little more than it has done in the last few years," McIlroy said. "I feel the only way to get through it is to put your head down and work on the right things and sort of trust the process and put in the hard work.
"There's going to be some good days, there's going to be some bad, but I feel like I'm on the right path."
He's working with swing coach Pete Cowan as well as long-time coach Michael Bannon, but Cowan is on tour and more available in person with Covid-19 causing travel issues.
"It'll take a bit of time," McIlroy said. "Like with anything, the slightest change in your swing is going to feel uncomfortable for a while. It's not like it's that far away.
"The good golf is in there and I feel capable of going out and shooting good scores any week on any golf course. But it's the days where you don't feel so good that you need to manage it and get it around in a couple under par. That's the challenge for me right now."