Rory McIlroy feels well and truly in his comfort zone as he heads into next week’s Masters Tournament, the only Major Championship played on American soil he is yet to win.
McIlroy won both the 2011 US Open Championship and the 2012 US PGA Championship in emphatic fashion, and would further cement his place amongst the game’s greats by adding a Green Jacket to his trophy cabinet.
Of the four Majors, McIlroy’s record in the Masters is perhaps the weakest, but the in-form Ulsterman was nonetheless in confident mood ahead of his sixth visit to Augusta National.
McIlroy said: “I feel a lot more calm this time than I did going into last year’s Masters. Last year, I felt like I still need to play more to be ready for Augusta. I wasn’t quite comfortable with everything, but coming into this year I took three weeks off and I feel settled, comfortable and really happy with my game.
“I was at Augusta on Monday and Tuesday playing practice rounds and getting ready for the tournament, whereas I didn’t do that last year because I felt I needed more competitive rounds.
“But I had a great off-season this year. I worked hard over the winter, and it’s been a good start to the season. I’ve had a couple of chances to win and haven’t managed to get the job done, but it’s a good problem to have and at least I’ve been putting myself in position to win.”
Even before the defection of Tiger Woods, McIlroy occupied his customary place as a pre-tournament favourite and whilst he is too modest to proclaim himself the frontrunner for the title, the Northern Irishman was understandably bullish about his prospects of succeeding Adam Scott as champion.
“I guess I consider myself one of the favourites this year,” he said. “I’m not going so sit here and lie to you and say I’m not, because I feel good about my game and I feel pretty good about my chances.
“But there’s a lot of guys who seem to show up at Augusta and play well every year. I think guys who have been going there for the past ten to 15 years feel very comfortable on the course, because they know how to get around.
“Look at somebody like Freddie Couples, who seems to go and play well every year. So it’s very difficult to pick a winner, but I certainly consider myself one of the favourites.”
With a new generation of players on both sides of the Atlantic starting to fulfil their potential, McIlroy believes the age of one player dominating the golfing landscape may be over – at least for now.
But if the World Number Seven can recapture the form which saw him win both the US Open and the US PGA Championships by eight shots, the remainder of the elite field could well be playing for second place next week.
He said: “If you look at the winners over the past few months, it’s been a different guy each week. So it’s almost as if golf’s waiting for someone to stamp their authority on the game and become that dominant player.
“In the past, we had Tiger winning nine, ten times a year. But we haven’t seen that recently, and it’s getting harder to win out here because there are so many more guys who have chances to win every time they tee it up.
“So I think a few guys need to put their hands up and try to become the dominant player in the game, because that’s what people like to see. It’s great for the sport to have people who are up there week in, week out and winning tournaments, because that creates rivalries which we haven’t really seen in golf for a couple of years.
“As a golf fan, it would be nice to see someone break away – and obviously I hope it’s me!”
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