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Masters 2017: Fully prepared McIlroy feels right at home at Augusta

 

By Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy looked as if he was out for a stroll in the garden as he completed his final preparations for the 81st Masters at Augusta National yesterday.

Accompanied by Sergio Garcia and Canada's Adam Hadwin, Ulsterman McIlroy played the back nine in the morning calm before the storms blew in later, causing play to be suspended at 1.25pm local time (6.25pm BST).

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He looked relaxed and at ease with his surroundings, which was no coincidence. Everything he has done in practice over the last few weeks had one purpose - to allow him to arrive on the first tee today primed to give this Masters his very best effort.

Prior to the Dell Technologies Match Play, McIlroy spent two days at Augusta with Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas.

"I wanted to come up here and have fun. It wasn't two days of mapping pin positions and greens and trying to figure out where to leave it if I hit it somewhere, it was one ball, shoot a score, playing some games," he said.

"I really enjoyed it. It was definitely the most enjoyable build-up because it was about trying to shoot a score, trying to win a bit of money off the boys.

"That's been the way I prepared, a nice change from the norm and the more holes you can get around here the better."

By Tuesday, four-time Major winner McIlroy had tallied up 99 holes in practice over the course, spread over a couple of weeks, and nine yesterday brought it up to 108.

"The more you can make Augusta National feel like your home golf course, the better; just to be comfortable in your surroundings, playing it as if it is your home course and that's the way I am trying to approach it this week," he said.

The World No.2 stands on the threshold of glory for the third consecutive year.

His fourth Major win, and his second US PGA title captured in August, 2014, left him needing 'just' the Masters for a career Grand Slam.

McIlroy is still waiting to slip his arms into that coveted green jacket, following his fourth-place finish in 2015 and tied-10 last year.

Pressure? Lots of it, and from all sides, not least from his own desires and expectations.

Ironically, the rib injury he suffered in South Africa which caused him to sit out tournament action and allow time for healing may work to his advantage.

McIlroy is, in racing parlance, 'lightly raced' with just 15 competitive rounds played in 2017. It kept him out of the limelight to some extent and afforded him plenty of time to work on his short game.

That and maturity combined to make him feel pretty positive about the challenges to come.

"Without all the hype and the build-up - I'm not sure if I've shielded it or if it has been more quiet - but I feel more relaxed going in, not as wound up," he said.

"My patience could get very short the weeks before the Masters sometimes and I could say a few things I didn't mean just because I was in a mood with the Masters coming up, a little bit of stress there.

"This year, I've been good, happy, relaxed, not stressed about it too much. I'm in a good frame of mind."

One thing the Ulster star must cut down on is bogeys.

Since 2010, McIlroy has had more double bogeys or worse at Augusta than any other player under 50, a key factor in shooting a round of 77 or higher in six of his last seven starts.

"It's just a matter of being smart, taking your medicine when you have to and moving on," he added.

That frame of mind will be tested, as will Shane Lowry's and the other 92 starters today, with winds forecast to average 25mph and to gust as high as 40mph.

The first task is survival through today and tomorrow because the weather is expected to provide excellent golfing conditions at the weekend.

Belfast Telegraph

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