Relaxed McIlroy ready to launch US Masters bid

Rory McIlroy hits to the second green during a practice round for the Masters
Rory McIlroy hits to the second green during a practice round for the Masters

Rory McIlroy believes he is equipped to lay down a robust challenge at this year’s US Masters.

McIlroy is preparing to launch his bid to claim the first major of the season – which starts on Thursday at Augusta.

Twelve months ago McIlroy arrived at the Masters on the back of a second-place finish in the Valero Texas Open which somewhat masked his struggles to adapt to new equipment, the 24-year-old having earlier walked off the course during his defence of the Honda Classic saying he was “in a bad place mentally.”

McIlroy also became embroiled in legal battles with his former management company and one of his sponsors, but eventually got his game back in shape and ended the year on a high with a victory in the Australian Open and successfully proposing to his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.

And a final round of 65 in last week’s Shell Houston Open means the Northern Irishman is in high spirits as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Adam Scott on Sunday.

McIlroy was also pleased to learn that another obstacle has been taken out of his way, namely the branch of a tree on the 10th hole which helped send his wayward drive into uncharted territory.

Despite a poor start to the final round, McIlroy was clinging onto the lead until a triple-bogey seven there precipitated a back nine of 43 that left him 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel and in tears on the phone with his mother.

“That’s probably the only time I’ve cried over golf, the morning after in 2011,” he added.

“Last year was nothing compared to blowing a lead in the final round of the Masters, because you never know if you’re going to get that opportunity again.

“It makes it easier these days when you have two majors in the bag. It’s not that you don’t care as much, but it’s not the end of the world. You know that you will have more opportunities and you’ve taken a couple of opportunities already.

“I think you’re always excited to come back here. I really enjoy this tournament. I have no ill feelings towards 2011. I thought it was a very important day in my career.

“It was a big learning curve for me and I don’t know if I had not have had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it. I learned exactly not what to do under pressure and contention, and I definitely learned from that day how to handle my emotions better on the course.”

McIlroy is making his sixth appearance in the Masters but will be the veteran in his group for the first two rounds after being paired with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 23-year-old Patrick Reed.

Reed hit the headlines recently for labelling himself one of the top five players in the world following his victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but world number nine McIlroy joked: “There’s going to be no top-five players in that group.

“Actually I played a few holes with Patrick today. It’s the first time I’ve ever spent any time with him. He seems like a nice guy.”

Reed and Spieth are among 24 rookies aiming to become the first to win on their Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and McIlroy added: “When I teed it up here for the first time I had not won a PGA Tour and I still was a pretty accomplished player. But Patrick has won three times on the PGA Tour, Jordan has obviously won once and last year was rookie of the year, played the Presidents Cup. So they are accomplished guys.

“I feel the first go around here you’re always a little tentative.”