No headlines, no problem. If Rory McIlroy as a forgotten man seems bizarre ahead of this – or any – Masters, the Northern Irishman has no desire whatsoever to fan publicity. As Augusta focus attaches itself to Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods and the uniqueness of a November major McIlroy has been left to prepare in the shadows. This suits him perfectly.
“I do prefer that,” McIlroy said. “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 coming into the Masters.
“But 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. Obviously Bryson is going to be feeling a little different because the attention is on him and deservedly so coming off the back of a major win and basically disrupting the game of golf over the last few months. It’s a big story, and I’m just as intrigued as everyone else to see how that unfolds.”
McIlroy’s year is of two halves. Before lockdown, he had returned to No 1 in the world and was contending for tournaments. Since the PGA Tour’s restart, his results have been relatively mediocre. It would be folly, however, to discount his chances of completing a clean sweep of major titles this weekend. He would become just the sixth player in history to do so.
“My game feels good,” said McIlroy. “I’ve hit it well over the past couple of weeks in practice, up here playing and 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. Playing with freedom.”
McIlroy’s Masters prospects were talked up by Phil Mickelson, after the pair were in company for Tuesday practice holes. “He’s playing beautifully,” Mickelson said. “I would be shocked if he wasn’t in contention with a great chance on Sunday. The guy is as complete a player as there is, as well as smart, knowledgeable and works hard. So he’ll win and complete the grand slam. He’s too great a player not to.”
Fatherhood has also come to McIlroy in 2020, with Poppy born on 31 August. “I think it’s probably changed my outlook on life a little bit more,” the four-time major winner admitted. “I grew up as an only child and an only child playing golf, so I feel like the whole world revolved around me for a long time and now it doesn’t. It revolves around this little person that came into the world a few weeks ago and it’s a nice change of pace. It’s different.”