Had he stayed home this week, Rory McIlroy knows exactly what he’d find himself doing: thinking about the Masters, pondering the possibilities.
So he changed up his schedule.
Not a fan of pool play at the Match Play, McIlroy opted to skip the only World Golf Championships event of the season in favor of a week of practice in South Florida. And wanting his final start before the Masters to be a stroke-play tournament, he instead signed up for this week’s Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2013, when he finished second and headed into the year’s first major with an added boost of confidence. (A third-round 79 at Augusta that year doomed his title hopes.) He’s hoping for similar momentum this time as he tries – yet again – to capture the final leg of the career Grand Slam.
“One of the great things about playing the week before is you’re staying busy,” he told reporters Wednesday at TPC San Antonio. “Sometimes being idle at you home you can just start to think about things or overthink things or whatever it is. So keeping your mind on something else is a good thing.”
Asked if he’d be tense at home, knowing all that was at stake for his legacy, he said: “Not really, no. I try, as best I can, to live in the present and not think too far in the future. I’d be fine.”
Still, Augusta was on McIlroy’s mind this week. He flew into town Monday and played two practice rounds at the home of the Masters. Unlike past visits, he traveled alone and didn’t stay on property.
“I just wanted to come and see the golf course,” he said.
What he saw were some changes to the course, most notably the added length to Nos. 11 (15 yards) and 15 (20 yards), as well as the new greens on Nos. 3, 13 and 17.
The par-4 11th, the beginning of Amen Corner that traditionally plays as one of the most difficult holes on the course, has been made even tougher, McIlroy said. Though the fairway is wider – even right misses still have a chance now to reach the green – he said he needed to hit 4- and 6-iron into the green. The bail-out area to the right of the putting surface is trickier for chipping, too.
“Overall,” he said, “I think it’s going to play tougher than it has in previous years, and it was already one of the toughest holes on the course.”
McIlroy missed the cut last year at the Masters, just the second time in his career that he's failed to play the weekend. Prior to that, he had finished inside the top-10 in six of his past seven appearances.