Rory McIlroy has conquered many golf courses and tournaments around the world. However, success at Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters has somehow eluded him.
The world No 2 may not show it, but it does bother him. For instance, he is well aware of the record that two recent Hero Dubai Desert Classic champions have gone on to win The Masters the same year.
Asked if he has done things differently this year as he tries to complete his career grand slam, McIlroy said: “Obviously, I played in Dubai at the start of the year, and that’s actually been a pretty happy hunting ground for a future Masters Champion.
“I think Danny Willett won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2016 and won the Masters, and I think Sergio won it in 2017 and went on to win the Masters. It would be nice to emulate them.”
Not that McIlroy is doubting his own talent, or clutching at straws. But it is rare for him to be looking at coincidences.
A little later, McIlroy was asked if he was surprised that despite experts thinking his game was tailor-made for Augusta National, he hasn’t succeeded here yet.
“But they said the same thing about Ernie Els and Greg Norman,” countered McIlroy.
“Just because a place is deemed to be perfectly set up for your game, it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to win it one day. There’s more to it than that. There have also been players that you would think this golf course wouldn’t set up well for, and they have won a green jacket.
“It’s a factor and it's nice to know that I come back to this place every year and that if I played the way I know I can, then I should have a good chance. I know if I can get myself in with a chance to win, then those last couple hours on Sunday, it’s not about whether the course sets up well for you. It’s about who can hold it together the best.”
His second-place finish last year, and especially the final-round course record-equalling 64 that included the spectacular birdie from the greenside bunker on the 72nd hole, is something that has the potential to propel him forward and go one better this year.
“The last time this tournament was played, I walked away from the course and the tournament pretty happy with myself,” said McIlroy, who revealed he came and played the golf course several times over the past one month.
“With that round, I proved to myself that I could do it. As much as I didn’t really get into contention (because of Scottie Scheffler’s big lead), there was a part of me on that back nine that felt that I had a chance, and to play the way I did, in my mind it felt like it was a breakthrough.
“I feel like I’ve got all the ingredients. It’s just about putting them all together over the next four days.”
It seems impossible these days that a McIlroy press conference won’t involve questions on LIV Golf. He has assumed the role of a spokesperson for the PGA Tour in the fight, and there was the famous incident in Dubai when he refused to acknowledge the presence of Patrick Reed at the driving range.
Revealing that he was playing nine holes with LIV Invitational – Florida champion Brooks Koepka, McIlroy said: “I see some of these guys at home, I see Brooks a lot, I see Dustin (Johnson) a lot, we sort of practice at the same place.
“I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become. It’s a very nuanced situation and there are different dynamics. It’s okay to get on with Brooks and DJ and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV. It’s interpersonal relationships.
“But this week and this tournament is way bigger than any of that and it’s just great that all of the best players in the world are together again for the first time in what seems to be quite a while.”