Lynch: Rory McIlroy talking Arnie, but thinking Augusta

rory mcilroy golff Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Lynch: Rory McIlroy talking Arnie, but thinking Augusta

PGA Tour

Lynch: Rory McIlroy talking Arnie, but thinking Augusta

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s mind is focused on four days from now, when he aims to defend his title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But his heart? Well that’s set on another prize 40 days and 400 miles from here.

Most of the questions McIlroy fielded Wednesday had nothing to do with his victory at Bay Hill a year ago but rather were about the tournament he famously hasn’t won, the Masters, where he will make a fifth attempt at completing the career grand slam next month. Yet the four-time major winner insisted he doesn’t feel increased pressure with each missed opportunity to slip into the iconic green jacket.

“I guess I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the fact that I’m going to fail more times than I succeed at that certain conquest,” he said. “I’ve become comfortable with the fact I’ve tried four times, I’ve failed.”

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but took mostly questions about the Masters on March 6, 2019.

McIlroy added that Abraham Lincoln suffered multiple election losses in his career. “He wound up being the president of the United States,” he said with a smile. “So I still got a bit of time.”

Plenty of time, actually: McIlroy only turns 30 in May. But he is almost five years removed from his last major victory and is keenly aware that a Masters win would grant him membership to the most elite club in golf.

“I think sometimes I’m too much of a fan of the game because I know exactly who has won the Grand Slam and I know exactly the people I would be putting myself alongside,” he said. “If I didn’t know the history of the game and I wasn’t such a fan it would work in my favor. But that’s not me. It would be a massive achievement. It would be huge. But again, I can’t think about it in that way. I just have to go out and play the golf course the way I know that I can play it and repeat that for four days.”

The API win a year ago was McIlroy’s last victory on the PGA Tour – or anywhere – but he got his week off to a positive start when his team shot a best-ball 59 in Wednesday’s pro-am. His partners included Today show host Carson Daly, with whom McIlroy has launched a monthly podcast. As he played the pro-am in frigid morning temperatures, a relaxed McIlroy revealed that his 2018 win at Bay Hill is owed to learning from eight-time winner Tiger Woods: “Take a very conservative approach on the par 4s. Take advantage of the par 5s. Shoot 16-under. Win.”

McIlroy shot 18-under-par one year ago. He has been close to winning numerous times since, and logged top-five finishes in each of his first four starts this year. He insists that he sees more positives than frustration in the close calls. “Obviously the ultimate goal is to win tournaments, but there’s little mini goals that you need to set yourself within those weeks and for the most part every time I’ve teed it up I’ve achieved those,” he said. “I’m very happy with where everything is. It’s about trying to take the little personal wins.”

Little personal wins and that one very big public win, of course.

“I love Augusta, I love the Masters tournament,” McIlroy said, waving off any suggestion that the pressure to fill the one empty space in his trophy cabinet hampers his quest. “I don’t find it in any way detrimental to my build-up. I’m going to prepare just as I prepare for any other event and go there and try to play good golf.

“And if I do that, hopefully it’s a shot less than anyone else that week.”

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