HOYLAKE, England – In back-to-back years the Open Championship has propelled a world-class player within one leg of the career Grand Slam.
A year ago it was Phil Mickelson, whose stunning victory at Muirfield set him up for a pressure-packed week at Pinehurst.
This time it’s Rory McIlroy, who on Sunday became the third player in history to capture three or more majors by age 25.
The world No. 2 already knew what such an achievement would mean when he was asked about it on the eve of the final round.
“A lot of hype heading into Augusta,” he said with a smile.
We’re nine months away from the 2015 Masters, but already that tournament was on the minds of some players – McIlroy included.
It was in 2011 when Boy Wonder, then 21, looked as though he would become the second-youngest player ever to slip into the green jacket. Then he squandered a four-shot lead with a Sunday 80.
Since then, he hasn’t finished better than eighth.
“I’ve always been comfortable from tee to green at Augusta,” he said Sunday night. “It’s just taken me a few years to figure out the greens and figure out where you need to miss it and some different little shots that you might need that week.”
Mcllroy said playing with Augusta member Jeff Knox during the third round of this year’s tournament “really helped me,” even though he got beat that day by the amateur marker.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen on Augusta’s greens,” he said. “I might have to take a couple of trips up before next year and have a couple of practice rounds with him.”
As for his peers? Well, even they believe it’s just a matter of time before McIlroy becomes only the sixth player in history to win all four modern majors.
“You know with his length and the way he plays and how well he plays that golf course, that definitely will happen and probably soon,” said Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion. “That just shows that he’s such a complete player at such a young age.”
Said Rickie Fowler: “I really don’t have any doubt that he’ll win there. It would be nice if I can get him first there.”