Rory McIlroy is back at the place where his game famously fell apart on a Sunday afternoon two years ago in hopes of bringing everything back together.
“Would anything less than a win be a disappointment this week? Yeah, it would be,” McIlroy said Tuesday when he faced the media here at Augusta National Golf Club. “Every time you come here to Augusta, you’re wanting to win that green jacket, and every time you don’t, it’s another missed chance. But if I’m sitting here on Sunday night, and I’ve finished second or if I’ve given it a good run, you can’t be too disappointed because you’ve had a great tournament, but the ultimate goal is getting one of those jackets.”
The 2013 Masters will kick off Thursday with McIlroy no longer ranked No. 1 in the world and only now beginning to rebound from a rocky opening to the 2013 season. The 23-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland, called the Masters his favorite tournament despite the fact that he never has finished higher than tied for 15th in four appearances.
That finish came in 2011, when he led heading into the back nine on Sunday only to collapse, eventually shooting a final-round 80 and watching South African Charl Schwartzel take the title.
“Still doesn’t change the fact that it’s my favorite golf tournament,” he said Tuesday.
McIlroy is a two-time major winner and a six-time PGA Tour winner, but none of those victories have come this season. In fact, his most memorable moment of the year came when he withdrew from the Honda Classic during a shaky round and later claimed a toothache forced the stoppage.
“Now and again, you get, ‘How’s the tooth?’ or something like that,” he said. “But everyone has been great.”
(The offending tooth is scheduled for removal in June, McIlroy said.)
McIlroy, who switched all of his equipment in January after signing a $200 million endorsement deal with Nike, has struggled so much this season that he added an event last week, playing in the Valero Texas Open, where he finished second.
“I thought last week went really well, almost perfectly,” he said. “I got what I wanted out of it in terms of playing more competitive golf, getting the scorecard in my hand, shooting scores. I think a bonus was getting into contention, and I felt like how I played when I got into contention was really pleasing.”
McIlroy arrived in Augusta on Sunday night and played his first nine holes Monday. Tuesday, McIlroy played a practice round alone while most participants played in groups. He especially took his time on the greens, often tossing white, plastic hole replicas and putting to several potential hole locations.
“I think every year you come here, you just want to get a feel for the course,” McIlroy said. “It was just about getting a feel for the place again, familiarizing yourself with lines off tees and where to leave the ball on the greens.”
McIlroy, who will have girlfriend and tennis star Caroline Wozniaki as his caddy during today’s Par-3 tournament, has made the most progress in his long game, which is where he had the longest to go, he said.
“The way I was hitting the ball at the start of the year, I needed a short game just to get myself around the golf course, and I was able to do that,” he said.
He’s also more comfortable with his new equipment, he said, and he will play the same clubs this week that he used in Texas. Earlier in the year, he made several changes in his bag, including his driver.
“I’m 100 percent there,” he said of his equipment. “I wanted to (make changes) all at the start of the year. I’m really comfortable with everything, and I feel like they are a part of me now, and that’s the way a golf club should be.”
As for how happy he is with his game, McIlroy won’t know that until Sunday, he said.
“Whenever you make birdies, you enjoy it, and whenever you play better you enjoy it more,” he said. “I think you’ve got to find a good balance. If I’m going around making a lot of bogeys, it’s hard to smile.”