Sobel: Rory McIlroy Has Tried Everything To Win The Masters, So What Now?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy has tried everything to win the Masters.
He’s tried taking a hefty lead into Sunday’s back nine. Didn’t work. He’s tried charging from behind. That didn’t work, either. He’s tried being so hyper-focused that winning this golf tournament has meant everything in the world to him, and he’s tried convincing himself that it means nothing at all. Again, same results.
Short of putting his change in his left pocket, tying his left shoe in a double knot, turning his hat backwards and sticking a tee behind his left ear, McIlroy has tried every possible permutation of preparation and psychology to win the lone major championship that continues to elude him.
Instead, he returns to Augusta every year, expected to answer the same questions he didn’t have answers for the previous year.
What if you don’t?
Any other words are superfluous to the situation. Rory knows what we want to know, but he also knows as little as we do about the answers to these questions. Sure, he can win the Masters. And maybe he will win the Masters. And if he doesn’t, well, that’s just something he’ll have to deal with someday, perhaps as part of a group commiseration with Greg Norman and Ernie Els.
For now, though, he can only say that same thing he’s been saying for the past half-decade, as he continues to attempt to become the sixth man in history to claim the career grand slam, golf’s golden ticket to immortality.
“Look, nothing’s given in this game,” McIlroy said on Tuesday in advance of this year’s Masters. “I’ve always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well. It’s just a matter of getting out of my own way and letting it happen. But as I said, you have to go out and earn it. You can’t just rely on people saying that you’re going to win one.”
This week marks his 12th career appearance at Augusta National. The first was in 2009, when he finished in a tie for 20th place, just a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday. There was the cringeworthy loss two years later, when he owned a lead at the turn, only to rip a drive where nobody had ever seen one before, making triple bogey, en route to a back-nine 43 and finishing 15th.
There was a five-year run beginning in 2014 during which he finished in the top 10 at this event every time, but never quite good enough to slide his arms into a coveted green jacket.
The fact that it’s been five years since he claimed an Open Championship title for the third leg of the slam only perpetuates the annual queries about whether he can and will finally win the last one.
Other players in the same situation might duck these questions, or at least deflect them in the most passive way possible. That’s not in Rory’s DNA. He listens intently to each one, then answers directly, as if he’s pondering this notion for the very first time.
“Greg Norman never did; Ernie Els never did,” he explained, reciting those others who always seemed preordained to win a Masters. “There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. It’s not a foregone conclusion, and I know that. I have to go out and earn it and play good golf.
“I think nowadays, with how many great players there are, I need to play my best golf to have a chance.”
He’s right. He’s absolutely right about all of it. There’s nothing McIlroy can do to answer these lingering questions other than simply win this tournament and make ‘em all go away.
It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, of course.
He’s tried everything. He’s tried approaching this event from every possible perspective, with every different type of preparation.
It hasn’t worked yet, but maybe it will this week. If it does, you know McIlroy can’t wait to finally never hear those questions again — about whether he can, whether he will and, especially, what if he doesn’t.