AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy has pronounced himself fit to win his first green jacket.
“Yeah, mind, body, equipment, it’s all there,” he said. “There’s no excuses if I don’t play well this week.”
Those are the words of a golfer brimming with confidence again. McIlroy withstood the storm of a difficult 2013 season and says he’s stronger for it. He closed out last year with an impressive victory over Adam Scott in the Australian Open. Though he hasn’t scored a victory yet this season, he’s been knocking on the door quite frequently. Confidence is knowing your best golf is still to come.
Hard as it is to believe, McIlroy, 24, is preparing to make his sixth Masters start, and he feels like a wily veteran paired with first-timers Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed in the opening two rounds.
“Yeah, there’s going to be no top-5 players in the group,” McIlroy said, a playful reference both to his drop to No. 9 in the OWGR and Reed’s declaration that he is a top-five player.
McIlroy recounted that his first trip down Magnolia Lane in 2009 was akin to the first day of school.
“You’re just wide‑eyed and looking all over the place,” he said.
McIlroy finished T-20 in his Masters debut. It was in 2011 that he held the 54-hole lead only to balloon to an 80 Sunday and finish 10 strokes behind champion Charl Schwartzel. Afterward, McIlroy had a good, long cry on the phone with his mother, but he has since called his failure to close one of the most important days in his growth into a champion golfer.
“I don’t know if I had not had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it,” McIlroy said. “I learned exactly not what to do under pressure and contention, and I definitely learned from that day how to handle my emotions better on the course.”
McIlroy recovered to win the 2011 U.S. Open and won the 2012 PGA Championship. After suffering through a lost season in the majors last year, McIlroy could have floated over on a wave of confidence to Augusta after shooting a final-round 65 Sunday in Houston. His game is rejuvenated as is his attitude, and he knows what it will take to slip into his first green jacket.
“You’ve seen the last few,” McIlroy said. “Someone always does something extraordinary if they are going to win on Sunday.”