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Rory McIlroy must put aside distractions to be the Master

McIlroy seeking return to form in bid to land coveted green jacket

By Peter Hutcheon

Published 02/04/2016

Big-hitter: Rory Mcllroy is seeking the spark to give him an advantage over his rivals
Big-hitter: Rory Mcllroy is seeking the spark to give him an advantage over his rivals
Jordan Spieth

One addition to Rory McIlroy's wardrobe would make all the difference to his prospects for the year. The Ulsterman yearns to get his hands on the winner's Green Jacket at Augusta next week.

It's a prize he knows he should already have claimed and with each passing year it becomes just that little bit more difficult to lay his hands on.

Win one, though, as Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have demonstrated, and a second or third can arrive in quick succession.

What McIlroy is really searching for at the moment is a little of the form from last season.

Of the current heavy-hitters - Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Adam Scott - he is the only one without a tournament victory to his credit so far in 2016.

He showed glimpses of it in his run at last week's World Matchplay without ever really looking like the champion he was on his way to that title 12 months before.

And losing out to Australian Day in the semi-finals won't have done his confidence a great deal of good heading into the first major of the season.

At the moment McIlroy is searching for that little spark - anything which will give him the vital edge over his rivals.

Hence the putting grip change at the start of the year - aping Spieth's cack-handed method.

And now he is skipping the traditional eve-of-tournament par three competition in a bid, he says, to avoid some of the hype and attention.

"It's a bit of a distraction and the year I had my best chance at Augusta, 2011, I didn't play the par-three contest," McIlroy said. "So maybe the decision not to play it this year can work in my favour."

In itself, the decision to play an extra practice round instead of the nine-hole competition is no big deal.

But it does perhaps suggest that he is rather grasping at straws rather than trusting in the game which has already delivered four major titles.

And in any case McIlroy has in the past been guilty of ramping up the attention on himself at Augusta.

In 2014 he had celebrity girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki caddy for him at the par three event.

And last year, as he was going for a third major in a row and the completion of a career grand slam, he had One Direction star Niall Horan on the bag.

It was telling how, as he made his decision not to play public, he attempted to turn the tables on his rivals in a way he has seldom done before. "You have the attention spread between Jordan (Spieth) going back to defend, Jason Day winning for a second week in a row and also there's Adam Scott who has won at Augusta before and is coming off his own back-to-back wins," he said.

"So there's a lot more going on around others competing in the Masters this year already than the spotlight I found myself in a year ago."

At his best McIlroy doesn't need to worry about what anyone else is doing.

There's always a chance that someone will go out and shoot the lights out as Spieth (right) did last year with a winning 18 under score which equalled Tiger Woods' record of 1997.

But more usually it doesn't happen and McIlroy's 12 under total from last year would have been good enough to win three of the last four Masters.

"The thing I have to remember is you've beaten all these guys before and if you simplify it, that's what you're trying to do," he says.

"You're trying to play the best out of the 100 players or whatever it is that week, instead of thinking about what this could mean.

"That's not the way you should approach the tournament at all.

"In the first couple of majors last year, I maybe put a bit too much pressure on myself. I just need to not think about the consequences so much.

"If I could have tied together the way I played the par threes and fours from 2014 with the way I played the par fives in 2015, it would have been a different story. I took advantage of the holes I needed to, didn't quite do enough over the other holes, but it was my best ever finish at Augusta, the best I'd ever played so it's getting closer."

McIlroy looked every inch the champion when he went out and shot 65 in that opening round in 2011 and despite what happened on the final day when he blew a three-shot lead, he knows he has the game to take the place apart.

The fairways are wide and with his length off the tee, he should be hitting relatively short irons into the greens on a regular basis.

When you've won four majors by the age of 25 hype and expectation are just another part of the game he has to deal with whenever he tees it up.

Winning the first major of the year would be quite a statement to his main rivals.

He certainly doesn't want to see one of them walk away with the Green Jacket that he has come to regard as his birthright.

Belfast Telegraph

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