Rory McIlroy begins carefully laid out build-up to the Masters

Four-time Major winner plays in the Genesis Open this week before heading for Mexico

Rory McIlroy tees it up this week at the Genesis Open on the PGA Tour. Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR

Rory McIlroy tees it up this week at the Genesis Open on the PGA Tour. Photo: Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR

 

His eyes very firmly focused on the one missing piece of the jigsaw in achieving the career Grand Slam, only time will tell if Rory McIlroy’s new strategy – bypassing the European Tour’s early-season Desert Swing to focus his playing efforts entirely on the other side of the Atlantic – will reap the desired dividends.

The 29-year-old Northern Irishman is back in action at this week’s Genesis Open at Riviera in Los Angeles, part of a carefully formulated itinerary up to the Masters at Augusta National in April: in fact, McIlroy has revealed his schedule will take in this week’s Genesis and next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship, followed by a week’s break before taking in back-to-back weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and The Players championship at Sawgrass.

His final build-up tournament prior to the Masters will be the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay, which takes place in Austin, Texas. In confirming his upcoming tour dates, McIlroy has made the hard calls to take the Honda Classic – where he is a previous tournament winner – and the Valspar tournaments off his schedule. McIlroy’s explanation for omitting the Honda Classic stop, one literally on his door step, is that he has “struggled” there in recent years.

McIlroy has opted to take a different approach this season in that ongoing quest to complete the career Grand Slam, a feat only achieved by five players – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – in the modern age of the Majors.

Two appearances

In opting not to make his traditional early-season trips to the Middle East to play Abu Dhabi and Dubai, McIlroy instead chose to get his season under way stateside and has top-five finishes in each of his two appearances so far this year, a tied-fourth place at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and a tied-fifth finish in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. McIlroy has spent time working with his coach Michael Bannon in Florida in the past week and will be making a third career appearance at Riviera, where has previously finished 20th on each of his outings.

Woods, too, is back in action in Los Angeles at an event which has consistently evaded his clutches down the years. This will be Woods’s 10th career appearance in the tournament, the only tour stop he has played more than four times without managing a win. Bubba Watson, on the other hand, has won three times in the past five years.

McIlroy is one of two Irish players in the field in Riviera, with Waterford man Séamus Power seeking to end a quite dismal sequence which has seen him miss seven successive cuts going back to the Shriners Hospital for Children Open early in the wraparound season.

Shane Lowry, who missed the cut at Pebble Beach, has a week off before resuming his tournament schedule at next week’s WGC Championship in Mexico and, like McIlroy, he will follow an itinerary that will then take in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players as he seeks to tie-down his place in the field for the Masters. Lowry, who remains 44th in the world, needs to be inside the top-50 on the official world golf rankings in the week before Augusta.

For Graeme McDowell, who has been cursing a wrist injury, his upcoming itinerary will take him to the Puerto Rico Open (a $3 million tournament which runs opposite the big-money WGC in Mexico) but is more uncertain going forward as he has limited playing opportunities and will also be looking for sponsors’ exemptions.

McDowell is assured of his place in the field for the US Open at Pebble Beach – where he won in 2010 – but is not yet exempt into the US PGA at Bethpage in May or, more importantly for him, the British Open at home in Royal Portrush in July. “The bottom line is I have to do well between now and then but I so want to be there,” said McDowell, who has fallen to 262nd in the world rankings.

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