A year ago, Rory McIlroy was the talk of the US Masters, his sights firmly set on becoming just the sixth player to win all four major tournaments.
This year, he is sharing the billing with Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who have won three out of the past four majors and moved ahead of him in the world rankings.
Spieth won the Masters, denying McIlroy his moment of history-making, and then added the US Open. Day dominated the second half of last year, culminating in his PGA Championship win.
The 26-year-old Northern Irishman McIlroy is fully aware that predictions he was about to open a period of almost Tiger-esque domination of world golf have proved to be well wide of the mark and that the gauntlet has been firmly thrown down in front of him.
“I would be lying if I said those guys having success does not motivate me. Of course it does,” the four-time major winner said.
“What Jordan did here last year, the US Open and the whole way through the summer, and what Jason Day did during the summer and this year, as well ... yeah, I do not want to be left behind. I want to be a part of that conversation. I am clinging on at the minute — a few wins will change that,” McIlroy said.
“You do not want to see guys beating you. You want to be the best, so you want to go out there and win tournaments and try as hard as you can, but I feel like I am close,” he added.
McIlroy said that despite failing to win a tournament so far this year, he could even benefit from sharing the spotlight with defending champion Spieth and Day, who is out to win back-to-back majors.
“I was probably a little bit more exposed [last year] in terms of eyeballs on me and media coverage and whatever, but I feel good. I probably feel a little bit more subdued going in this time, because I maybe have not had the win this year, but I feel like my game is right there, so I feel good,” McIlroy said.
There is also the fact that McIlroy knows his game, with his natural draw and high trajectories, is ideally suited to the specific demands of Augusta National, which he always felt he would win ahead of either the US Open or The Open.
He nearly did so in 2011, when he took a four-shot lead into the final round only to crumble under the weight of expectations, a closing 80 dropping him into a tie for 15th.
Last year, the problem was the other way around as he struggled through the first 27 holes only to finish superbly with a closing 66 that gave him a Masters-best tie for fourth place.
McIlroy said the key is getting off to a solid start and then learning from the lessons of 2011 and holding it together on Sunday down the back nine.
“I feel like I am a good enough player. I feel like I have got everything I need to become a Masters champion, but I think each and every year that passes that I do not, it will become increasingly more difficult. So there is no time like the present to get it done,” he added.
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