Rory McIlroy ‘flattered’ as Tiger Woods backs him to win Masters for career slam

By Sports Desk April 09, 2024

Tiger Woods reiterated his belief that Rory McIlroy will definitely win the Masters during his career to complete the grand slam as McIlroy kept his own media duties to a minimum.

McIlroy was the last player to register at Augusta National around 30 minutes before his scheduled press conference, which started early and saw the world number two answer just seven questions.

One of those was in response to Woods having earlier insisted it was just a “matter of time” before McIlroy earns a green jacket to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods himself in having won all four major titles.

“It’s flattering,” McIlroy said. “It’s nice to hear, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game say something like that.

“Does that mean that it’s going to happen? Obviously not. But he’s been around the game long enough to know that I at least have the potential to do it.

“I know I’ve got the potential to do it too. It’s not as if I haven’t been a pretty good player for the last couple of decades. But, yeah, it’s nice to hear it when it comes out of his mouth.”

Since winning the Open Championship in 2014, McIlroy has had nine attempts to win the Masters, his best finish of second in 2022 coming thanks to a stunning closing 64.

And despite missing the cut last year, McIlroy feels he has what it takes to claim a fifth major title at Augusta National and a first since the 2014 US PGA.

McIlroy, who famously held a four-shot lead after 54 holes in 2011 only to collapse to a closing 80, said: “I feel like I’ve got all the tools to do well this week.

“But to bring those tools out, I think one of the most important things is to enjoy it and smell the, I guess not the roses, the azaleas along the way.

“This is my 16th start in the Masters, so I feel like I’ve done it quite a few different ways, and I guess am just trying to bring a little bit of normalcy into what I sort of try to do week in, week out.

“I play 25 weeks a year, and there’s no point in doing anything different this week compared to other weeks, I guess.

“I wanted to play quite a bit leading up to this just to feel like my game was sharp or, if it wasn’t sharp, to try to get it in the best shape possible. I feel like I made a couple of good strides in that direction last week in Texas.

“I usually try to get into tournaments either Monday nights or Tuesday mornings, and that’s sort of what I’ve done this week.

“I came up here last week to play two practice rounds at the start of the week so I feel like I’ve already got most of my prep work done. So it’s just about going out there and being relaxed and being in the right frame of mind.

“Not trying to win it from the first tee shot is something that I’ve tried to learn. It’s a 72-hole golf tournament. I’ve won from 10 strokes back going into the weekend.

“This golf course gets you to chase things a little more than other golf courses, if you make a bogey or if you get yourself out of position, because it always tempts you to do something you think you can do.

“And I’m pretty confident in my golf game. I think I can do most things, but sometimes you just have to take the conservative route and be a little more disciplined and patient.”

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    Rory McIlroy believes his "controlled" and "disciplined" start will stand him in good stead at the US Open, where he is eyeing a first major triumph in 10 years.

    The three-time major winner opened with a bogey-free opening round of 65 at Pinehurst for a share of the lead with Patrick Cantlay.

    It is a good omen for McIlroy, who has gone on to lift the trophy on all three occasions he has started a major without bogeying - achieving the feat at the 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship and 2014 Open Championship.

    The 35-year-old also equalled his best-ever start at a US Open, having posted 65 on the way to his 2011 victory and second-place finish 12 months ago.

    "It's nice to see your name at the top of the leaderboard after the first day of a US Open," McIlroy, who hit five birdies including two in the last three holes, told Sky Sports. 

    "I felt like I played a really solid, controlled round of golf. I just stayed disciplined and when I got myself in trouble, I took my medicine, two-putted.

    "This is the whole thing about a US Open, it's trying to keep clean scorecards like this. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to keep it bogey-free for the rest of the week. But it's not about how many birdies you make, it's about how many bogeys you don't make.

    "I had a run of pars from the 11th through to 15th where I had chances and wasn't able to convert. But I feel like the patience I showed over those five holes was rewarded with two birdies in the last three - a great way to finish.

    "I went through a run for a while where my starts at major championships weren't very good. I probably got myself a little too worked up at the start of the week.

    "Certainly, the major championships that I've won or the ones that I've played well at, I've always seemed to get off to a good start, and it's nice to get off to another one."

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    Tiger Woods conceded he was not as sharp as he needed to be during round one of the US Open on Thursday.

    The 15-time major winner carded a four-over 74 at Pinehurst No 2, leaving him nine shots adrift of co-leaders Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy.

    Woods is making just a third start of the season as he focuses on being able to stay healthy for the majors but the 48-year-old acknowledged that is affecting his ability to compete.

    In quotes reported by Sky Sports, he said: "I didn't hit my irons particularly well. Didn't putt that great. Drove it on the string all day, just unfortunately I just didn't capitalise on it.

    "I was somewhat conservative in some of my end points. Then again, I didn't hit the ball very well either, so it added up to quite a bit of distance away from the flag. It's not where I wanted to be on a lot of the holes. It just ended up being that far away because I wasn't as sharp as I needed to be."

    "I'm physically getting better as the year has gone on. I just haven't been able to play as much because I just don't want to hurt myself pre (majors), then I won't be able to play in the major championships.

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  • US Open: McIlroy matches early pace set by Cantlay US Open: McIlroy matches early pace set by Cantlay

    Patrick Cantlay set the early pace on day one of the US Open at Pinehurst, with Rory McIlroy later matching his score to share the lead.

    McIlroy, part of the headline group with world number one, Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, had the chance to equal the lead on the 17th but missed his birdie shot by inches.

    However, he held his nerve on the final hole to finish a bogey-free five-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with Cantlay.

    A tough round for Scheffler saw him card a one-over 71, while Schauffele missed his birdie putt on the final hole to finish on level par.

    Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka briefly led after 10 holes, but a sloppy finish saw him finish on level par, with Collin Morikawa matching his score shortly after.

    Meanwhile, Tiger Woods made a promising start with a birdie on the 10th, his first hole of the round, but he struggled as he went on, finishing with a four-over 74.

    Bryson DeChambeau was among the later starters in North Carolina.

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