As Rory McIlroy prepares for a third attempt at completing a grand slam of major championships, he has admitted he “wouldn’t be fulfilled” without winning the Masters.
McIlroy has not won a major since August 2014, when success at Valhalla afforded him a second US PGA Championship. The Masters remains the only one of the big four events to elude the Northern Irishman and the significance of that is not something he will readily understate. Whatever else McIlroy might lack in the coming days, motivation is not in doubt.
“I’d love to give you an answer and say my life is already fulfilled with everything that’s happened and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that,” McIlroy said. “But if I didn’t have a Green Jacket there would be a tiny piece that would just be missing. It really would be. I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.
“I said it in an interview when I was eight years old; I want to be the best golfer in the world and I want to win all the majors. I’ve nearly done all of that. There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”
McIlroy will obviously begin this, the 81st Masters, as a live contender having claimed top-10 finishes on each of his last three visits to Augusta. It is commonly forgotten but little over six months has passed since the 27-year-old won two FedEx play-off events, thereby claiming the $10m bonus pool. Thereafter McIlroy was inspired, despite Europe losing to the USA team in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
“The Ryder Cup brings out emotions in me I didn’t think I had,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t think I’d act like that. I watch it back now and I’m like: ‘Wow, I don’t think I could get any more fired up than that.’ It’s definitely different for a golf event and it was the first event I felt like the away team.
“I’d never want to feel intimidated by the opposing crowd but you’re up against it. You’re not just playing your opponent. You’re playing the 50,000 people yelling at you as well. As a golfer, you don’t get that very often. I got into it. I got into it on the golf course, I got into it with the fans.”
Speaking to espn.com, McIlroy looked further back, to his painful collapse over the closing stretch of the Masters in 2011, which was almost immediately followed by victory at the US Open. “That was probably the most important two months of my life and the most important two months of my career,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself as a golfer. I knew everything that happened at Augusta that went wrong. I knew what I needed to do to fix it and make sure that didn’t happen again.”
McIlroy, once inspired by Tiger Woods, has featured in every Masters since 2009. Memories of that debut remain vivid, if not entirely for positive reasons. “I remember thinking to myself: ‘I’m never going to have that experience again, of watching it the way I did as a kid,’” he said. “People remember watching Masters Sunday. I had grown up with the Masters and sitting down with my dad and watching, rooting for Tiger to win.
“Hopefully kids are now watching me try to win a Green Jacket and hopefully they get that same excitement from watching me try to succeed.”
Having missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open last week, Jordan Spieth was among those at Augusta on Sunday morning to witness the children’s Drive, Chip and Putt event.
The Texan has revealed that in December, on his first visit back to the 12th hole where a Sunday seven last year cost him a second successive Masters, he made a birdie two. “I was walking around with my hands up, like the demon was gone,” Spieth said.
Meanwhile, Russell Henley overcame a four-shot deficit in the final round of the Shell Houston Open to claim a third PGA Tour title and the last place in the Masters field.
The 27-year-old American carded a seven-under-par closing round of 65 in Texas to usurp South Korea’s Sung Kang and seal victory by three strokes. Kang had two birdies on the front nine, but swiftly handed the shot back with bogeys on both occasions and could only par his way in after the turn.
Henley took full advantage, making gains from 11 feet on the second and seven feet on the fourth before a hat-trick of birdies from the sixth handed him the lead.
A double bogey on the par-three ninth - where Henley found a bunker from the tee and then three-putted - briefly checked his progress. However, he responded with a birdie from 14 feet on the next and again reeled off three successive birdies from the 13th, before registering a 10th gain of the day on the 17th.
A dropped shot at the last saw Henley finish on 20 under par for the week, with Kang three shots adrift in second.
Rickie Fowler and Luke List tied for third on 16 under, with English pair Justin Rose and Andy Sullivan the leading British challenge on seven under after matching closing rounds of 70.
Good news for the Masters organisers has arrived via improved weather forecast. Whereas early predictions were that this week could be beset by storms, a subsequent forecast on Sunday had only Thursday morning carrying a thunder threat. Thursday and Friday, however, are set for gusts in excess of 20mph.