Confident McIlroy arrives at Augusta


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Three months into the season, Rory McIlroy feels as if it’s already been a long year.

The splashy announcement of his Nike deal, and the commercial with Tiger Woods that raised hopes of a big rivalry. The missed cut in Abu Dhabi. The first-round exit from the Match Play Championship. Quitting halfway through the second round of the Honda Classic. The loss of his No. 1 ranking.

And now, McIlroy is ready to get started.

“I’ve always said the main golf season is from the start of April to the end of August, so that’s when I want to play my best golf,” McIlroy said Tuesday.

It all starts with the Masters.

McIlroy can’t simply dismiss the last three months and the endless questions about the state of his game and his new equipment. He at least brings some measure of form to the first major championship of the year. Desperate to find his game, he added the Texas Open at the last minute and in turned out “almost perfectly.” The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland didn’t think about his swing, only his score. He challenged in the final round and wound up the runner-up.

Whether he’s ready for Augusta National won’t be known until Thursday. But at least he knows it’s there.

“I’ve went through these patches before where I haven’t played so well and the game feels quite far away, and then something clicks and then all of a sudden, it’s back again,” McIlroy said. “I probably should have learned more from it from last summer when I was going through those struggles. … When I don’t play my best, it’s when I get into bad habits in my golf swing. Whenever my golf swing is where I want it to be, that’s when I produce results.

“And that’s what I’ve seen has started to happen over the past few weeks.”

The problem has been the swing, not the clubs he was swinging.

Even so, McIlroy conceded the adjustment took some time. Woods took nearly five years before working all the Nike clubs into his bag. McIlroy did it all at once, and when he played poorly the first two months of the year, it only added to the scrutiny.

“The way I was hitting the ball at the start of the year, I needed a short game just to get myself around the golf course,” McIlroy said. “Off the tee has been a big improvement. There was a little bit of an adjustment period getting the driver that really suited me.

“And once I got that, you gain confidence whenever you play rounds and you see yourself hitting good drives, hitting it in the fairway and setting yourself up with iron shots into the greens.”