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Rory McIlroy: I won't be fulfilled until I win the Masters

 

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy admits he will not be "fulfilled" until he wins the Masters and becomes just the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam.

After signing a 10-year extension on his endorsement deal with Nike, McIlroy will attempt to claim a first green jacket at Augusta National to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four Majors.

The 27-year-old Ulsterman has long been financially set for life and is due to marry his fiancée Erica Stoll shortly, but will not be satisfied until he joins that exclusive club.

"I'd love to give you an answer and say my life is already fulfilled with everything that's happened and everything that's going to happen in the future by starting a family and all that," McIlroy said.

"But if I didn't have a green jacket, there'd be a tiny piece that would just be missing. It really would be. And yeah, I'd be lying if I said, as a person... I wouldn't be fulfilled if I didn't get it.

"I said when I was eight-years-old that I wanted to be the best golfer in the world and I wanted to win all the Majors. I've nearly done all of that. There's one piece of the puzzle that's missing."

McIlroy's initial Nike deal included apparel, shoes and clubs, but the company pulled out of the club-making business last year, leaving McIlroy free to use other equipment. He said the deal is for 10 years.

"I've loved this company since I was a kid," McIlroy said in a statement. "I'm really happy to continue this journey with Nike."

One man who does own a green jacket is defending champion Danny Willett, who admits he has found it hard - and at times impossible - to ignore the criticism which comes with being a Major winner struggling to rediscover his top form.

Willett became the first English winner of the Masters for 20 years with his dramatic victory at Augusta 12 months ago, taking advantage of defending champion Jordan Spieth's collapse with a flawless final round of 67.

The 29-year-old Yorkshireman also finished third in the BMW PGA Championship and second in the Italian Open, but was struggling for form by the time of his Ryder Cup debut and failed to win a point, albeit not helped by his brother's controversial article about American fans.

So far in 2017 he has failed to convert a three-shot 54-hole lead in Malaysia, finished 69th in the 77-man field in the WGC-Mexico Championship and failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Match Play in Austin.

And such struggles have inevitably not gone unnoticed on social media, where a handful of Willett's 114,000 followers have not been afraid to lambast the World No.17.

"You've got to realise it's a very, very small percentage unfortunately of people that aren't very positive about things," Willett said.

"That's the world we live in with how social media has gone. It's a good tool for a lot of things but it's also a good tool for people who are sat at home with nothing better to do.

"You've got to take it all with a pinch of salt - sometimes it's definitely better to just turn your phone off so you don't read it, but sometimes if something is said that is out of order, I think you should say something back.

"I don't think it's fair that people can sit there and say those kind of things; they wouldn't do it if they were stood next to you in the pub or anything like that. Unfortunately, people think because it's just on their phone that there's nobody actually at the other end of it."

Willett concedes he may have fallen into the trap of placing more pressure on himself as a Major champion, but insists the work he is doing on his swing was not a reaction to the win.

"I was trying not to have higher expectations but I think that's kind of crept in a little bit," he added. "There is pressure you put on yourself and the pressure others do, and expectations that because you've done it once you should be able to do it every week, and then you obviously start to think a little like that.

"The best part is having the jacket, being Masters champion. The worst part is when you pitch up and don't quite play like you are a Major champion - that's the hardest thing to get over.

"My game is something I'm always working on. We've worked very hard over the last three years to take the left side of the golf course out of play. Unfortunately, how it's gone the last few months every now and again you end up hitting a little pull when you're trying to hit a fade and then you hit a couple in reaction to that which miss right.

"A lot of my stuff, the reason we do that is to protect the back - the fade movement helps with the pain on the back and helps me move without putting the back under too much stress.

"You are always trying to get better. Anybody who says they are trying to stay the same is lying. You're always trying to get better and timing wise it's just one of them things.

"Some days are better than others, some weeks are better. Unfortunately I've had a little spell where it's not quite gone as well as the previous few months, but if you look at the previous few months before that it was almost impossible to keep it at that level."

Bad weather severely disrupted the first official day of practice for the Masters yesterday, with players and spectators twice forced to evacuate Augusta.

Play was initially interrupted for almost two hours before a brighter spell allowed players to resume their preparations for the year's first Major.

However, a second band of storms soon began to approach the area and led tournament officials to suspend play for the day at 2.30pm local time.

World No.8 Rickie Fowler was not too concerned however, telling his pre-tournament press conference: "It's actually worked out perfectly. It cleared up just in time to drive over to the media centre.

"I wasn't planning on really doing anything today. Mondays for me at a normal tournament are typically rest days. You have to push yourself to stay away to stay rested.

"The plan is to play 18 tomorrow and then, depending on what the weather is for Wednesday, I'd like to get out for nine and then play the par three (contest)."

Belfast Telegraph

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