McIlroy has that Rory strut going again

Only the green jacket will please the Ulster man as he gets ready for latest Masters tilt

Rory McIlroy walks up a fairway during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 Masters. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy walks up a fairway during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 Masters. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

Let’s not call it a slump, or even a mini-slump. It was too miniscule for that. Whatever it was, whatever hiccup or aberration Rory McIlroy experienced in the dawning weeks and months of this year, has been cured.

Or so he would have us believe.

In the run-up to tomorrow's start of the US Masters, the first Major of the season, the 23-year-old Ulsterman – refusing to blame his new clubs or even his aching wisdom tooth but apportioning blame solely to himself for any misfiring shots in the early part of the season – wasn’t in the mood to sit on the ditch here at Augusta National Golf Club.

“Would anything less than a win be a disappointment this week?” he pondered yesterday, before replying: “Yeah, it would be.”

A statement of intent?

McIlroy may no longer own the world number one spot, having relinquished it to Tiger Woods, but the confidence that got him to that lofty position for most of 2012 has returned to burn like a fire through his body. He is up for this one.

“Every time you come here to Augusta, you’re wanting to win that green jacket. And every time that you don’t, it’s another chance missed . . . the ultimate goal is getting one of those jackets.”

Start button
As far as McIlroy, on the back of his runner-up finish to Martin Laird in the Texas Open is concerned, it is time to press the start button on the serious business. “I’ve always said the main golf season is from the start of April to the end of August, so that’s when I want to play my best golf.”

The green jacket is golf’s ultimate status symbol. In his quest to claim that famed coat, McIlroy has decided to change his gameplan for this, his fifth Masters appearance.

Seemingly destined to have it placed on his shoulders in 2011 until a back nine meltdown sparked by a triple-bogey seven on the 10th in his final round, McIlroy isn’t concerned about any lingering bad memories.

“All the demons are gone. They were gone as soon as I got off the 18th green (two years ago). What’s done is done and it doesn’t matter,” he insisted.

If there were any demons, they would likely be of a more recent vintage and concern missed cuts (in Abu Dhabi) and walking off the course at the Honda Classic, citing an aching wisdom tooth at the time. He is convinced he has turned a corner.

Something clicks
As he put it yesterday, “I’ve went through these sort of patches before where I haven’t played so swell and the game feels quite far away and then something clicks and then all of a sudden it is back.

“I probably should have learned more from last summer when I was going through those struggles, but it’s about keeping on top of everything, keeping on top of fundamentals.

“When I don’t play my best, it’s when I get into bad habits in my golf swing. Whenever my golf swing is where I want it to be, that’s when I produce results and that’s what I’ve seen has started to happen over the past few weeks.”

McIlroy refused to blame his clubs. “I’m very comfortable, I’m 100 per cent there,” he said, referring to his decision to put 14 new clubs in his bag when he switched club allegiance from Titleist to Nike.

Comfortable
“I didn’t want to leave it for a while and say, ‘okay, I’ll put something in in dribs and drabs’. I just wanted to get it all in and settled and have it over and done with straightaway. I’m really comfortable with everything and I feel they are a part of me now and that’s the way a golf club should be.”

For sure, McIlroy had to reach inside and make some tough decisions to get to this point, not least his decision to forgo a planned humanitarian visit to Haiti last week and to add the Texas Open on to his itinerary instead.

“Golf sometimes is a selfish sport and sometimes you have to do what’s right for yourself. I knew I was letting a lot of people down with my decision to go to San Antonio but, at the end of the day, that’s what I needed to do to feel like I was ready for this week and this tournament.”

The next few days will tell that tale; but the evidence certainly suggests McIlroy is geared up for his quest to increase his major tally to three.