The 27-year-old will this week play the Masters for the 9th occasion, and with three top-10s in his last three starts, there is reason to believe he is well poised for a breakthrough win in this particular major, having achieved the ultimate success in the other three.
McIlroy appeared set for a win in 2011 when he took a one-shot lead into the final nine holes before self-imploding over the latter stages of the event and eventually finished tied for 15th. While it was gut-wrenching at the time, there were lessons he learned from that experience that he is still using today.
“The one thing I did learn is that it is never over, either a lapse of concentration from someone else or a moment of brilliance from yourself to turn things around.
“If I am four or five behind going into the back nine this week, for example, it is never over. You can never give up. As a golfer, I learned a few things and, as a person, I learned to never give up and persevere.”
“I feel like I have taken lessons from then which have served me well up until this point.”
Two months later, McIlroy won the US Open by eight shots and has since added three more major championships and enters this week on the verge of a career Grand Slam if he is able to win. He would become one of only six players to do so but what company he would join.
To elevate his name alongside Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods would make him one of the greats of the game - perhaps he already is.
McIlroy discussed his injury-interrupted start to the year and that he was forced to sit out the best part of two months while he recovered from an injury he incurred in South Africa in January.
“It wasn’t the start I wanted to the year - I actually wanted to play quite a heavy schedule coming into the Masters but the seven weeks off allowed me to work on a few things in my game.
“Whenever you play week-in-week-out, there are things you may neglect a little bit so I spent a good bit of time around the short game area and the putting green. I tried to get that really sharp as it is of huge importance this week.”
McIlroy is happy enough with his game despite his absence earlier this year.
“I feel like the two stroke-play events I have played since I came back I have given a good account of myself. I had a chance to win at Bay Hill but didn’t finish it off but am feeling good coming in this week and have prepared well over the past 10 days.
“I’ve played 99 holes in the last two weeks here so I feel I have played the golf course enough and am ready to go. It’s been a relatively quiet build up to the Masters for me which has been quite nice. It’s been quite a change you know - 2015 coming off the back of two major wins and going for the career Grand Slam and then even last year although the spotlight was then shared by a few guys.
“This year, Dustin seems to have that – he’s the form player right now. There’s a lot of storylines but I feel like it has been relatively quiet for me. Not that I can fly under the radar anymore but it has felt that way to me and it has been nice to be able to prepare and go about my business quietly to try and get ready for this tournament.”
McIlroy was asked about whether some of the lessons he had learned at the Masters previously and the occasional high score he has produced involved changing strategies.
“You know, around here, you don’t take on too much. I had this conversation with Jack Nicklaus in Florida yesterday. He said he had taken on too much a couple of times and it cost [him] a couple of green jackets. My response was, 'well you have six so that’s fine (laughter)'.
“I cast my mind back to the 11th on Saturday last year when I was in the pine straw on the left and tried to hit a low hook around and catch the hill and it went into the water and I took six. That’s the last thing I needed at that point. Even if you make five, then five is better than six and it is a case of taking your medicine when you have to and move on.”
The most difficult question McIlroy was to face today however was not related to the Masters but to some of the comments he made around his thoughts on the membership at Muirfield regarding their vote on admitting women to the club and how that stance stood up against his decision to play golf with Donald Trump.
The question went as follows: “Rory you admirably criticised Muirfield's membership when it took them so long to have women members and you said you wouldn’t want to have a cup of tea with them. Obviously you played a round of golf with Donald Trump and he bragged about sexually assaulting women, mocked a disabled person and had a battle with the Goldstar family – what’s the difference?
McIlroy handled this most difficult question well but he was clearly uncomfortable. After starting with a big sigh McIlroy went on to say: “I think Muirfield Golf Club and the Office of the President of the United States are two completely different things. I’ve spent time in President Trump's company before but that does not mean I agree with everything he says – actually the opposite.
"There was not one bit of politics discussed in that round of golf. He was more interested in what grass he had just put on the greens."
“I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had have turned it down. It was a round of golf and nothing more. Would I do it again after the sort of backlash I received – well I would think twice about it.”
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