RORY McILROY is long overdue a fifth major. This could well be the week he adds to his collection.
When McIlroy claimed his fourth major title five years ago at the US PGA, it seemed like he would become the dominant figure of the age.
It has not happened quite like that but, at 29, the Northern Irishman still has time on his side, and completing the career Grand Slam at Augusta would go down as one of the great golfing achievements.
McIlroy, apparently helped by a new, unusual routine which includes juggling, is clearly in a good place, and enjoyed the boost of a tip from the top yesterday when the 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus said: ‘I would find it hard to pick one (winner) but Rory is playing terrific and would probably be No.1.’
McIlroy has made a tremendous start to 2019, christened in style with victory last month at the ‘fifth major’, the Players Championship, and he said: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever started a season this well.
‘It’s focusing on the small things and not living or dying by the results. A change of attitude has been one of the biggest keys to how I’ve played. It’s about not getting caught up trying to play perfect golf.’
On his new regime, McIlroy added: ‘Look, I’m not going to go live with the monks for a couple of months in Nepal. My routine now consists of meditation, juggling and mind training, doing all the stuff to get you in the right place.’
Even the weather seems to be playing into McIlroy’s hands, with plenty of rain this week leaving the course soft and favouring the big hitters.
The age-old problem for the top stars at this major is so many other players look capable of winning too. The field is exclusive and ultra-competitive.
Dustin Johnson has also looked in very decent form in the first three months of this year, while world No.1 Justin Rose will always feel he has unfinished business at Augusta having been pipped to the title so dramatically by Sergio Garcia two years ago.
Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth have not looked the part lately but the American pair will always be big-time competitors and can’t be discounted.
As for the rest of the Britons, Paul Casey has really impressed at Augusta in recent years and has the game to go all the way. Tommy Fleetwood looks like he was born to play at the majors but this is only his third Masters appearance.
There is probably only one cast-iron guarantee, this event and its sumptuous setting will deliver priceless drama as it usually does. The Masters has always felt like a slice of golfing heaven, which heralds spring is truly with us. Bring it on.