'Relaxed' Rory McIlroy knows what he must do to win The Masters

Rory Mc Ilroy

On paper, it's simple enough. Post the lowest score, win the tournament.

On grass, it's never that straightforward. That, in part, is why only five players in the history of the game have completed the career grand slam. 

Rory McIlroy is three-quarters of the way there. All he has to do to receive the golfing immortality currently reserved for Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player, not to mention Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, is win The Masters. 

Five times he has come to Augusta in search of sporting nirvana. Five times he has failed to find it. 

Sixth time's a charm? We'll know come Sunday. 

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There are factors in McIlroy's favour. With each year, he becomes better acquainted with Augusta National's nuances and idiosyncrasies. They say that it's not a golf course you play so much as a golf course you learn. In that sense, the Northern Irishman is better equipped than he was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that. If knowledge is power, McIlroy is becoming ever more potent a threat.

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The forecasted bad weather should also add a few extra smile lines to his 31-year-old eyes. McIlroy typically plays well on soft courses. You don't have to conduct much more than a superficial study of his CV to realise that. 

However, his greatest strength is also, arguably, his greatest weakness.

It's his mind, and it's apt to play tricks on him.

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McIlroy, as he has demonstrated on an infuriatingly regular basis, is prone to mental lapses at critical times. These aberrations of concentration have cost him too much and all too often. And yet, speaking to the media at Augusta today, he was a picture of zen. 

He knows the stakes, the consequences of victory, the Shangri-la that awaits beyond the 18th green of this particular golf course. Nobody needs to remind him of any of that. 

In spite of all this, his mind is quiet and his focus sharp as he prepares to go again.

"I've always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well," he said. "It's just a matter of, you know, getting out of my own way and letting it happen.  

"You have to go out and earn it. You can't just rely on people saying that you're going to win one. Greg Norman never did. Ernie Els never did.  There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. It's not a foregone conclusion, and I know that. 

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"I have to go out and earn it and play good golf."

In recent years, and for quite obvious reasons, McIlroy has been the story in the weeks leading up to the Masters. Not so this year.

The big-hitting exploits of Bryson DeChambeau and speculation about what he might do to one of the game's most iconic temples has, instead, dominated the build-up to this year's COVID-delayed tournament. 

As far as McIlroy is concerned, that's just fine.

"I prefer that," he says. "I like it. I've always liked sort of doing my own thing and trying to stay as low‑key as possible. Sometimes the way I've played over the years, that hasn't happened because I've won some tournaments and I've been on some pretty good runs at times.  

"But yeah, I don't mind this  This is nice. It feels like everything this year. It's more subdued. It's more relaxed. That's the feel for me, anyway. 

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He added: "My game feels good. You know, I've hit it well over the past couple of weeks in practice up here, playing a couple of practice rounds the last two days.  

"I feel as in control as I have been for a while, and that adds to that relaxed feeling. You know that it's in there. It's just a matter of going out, just getting out of my own way and just playing. 

"Play with freedom."

Play with freedom. Simple enough on paper. On grass? It's never that straightforward. 

Until, finally, it is.

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