Jon Rahm insists his competitive edge has not been dulled by his move to LIV Golf as he bids to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters titles.

Rahm’s shock move to the Saudi-backed breakaway competition came after he had previously pledged his loyalty to the PGA Tour and criticised LIV’s 54-hole format, with no cut and a shotgun start as “not a golf tournament”.

The two-time major winner has failed to win any of the five LIV events he has played but travelled to Augusta on the back of finishing fourth in Miami on Sunday and winning the team event at Doral.

“I’ve had a lot of fun playing in those events,” Rahm said. “The competition’s still there.

“Yeah, they’re smaller fields but you still have to beat some of the best players in the world and you still have to play at the same level you have to play on the PGA Tour to win those events.

“I understand there’s less people. I understand the team format’s a little different. I understand we’re going shotgun and things are a little bit different to how they are in a PGA TOUR event.

“But the pressure’s there. I want to win as bad as I wanted to win before I moved on to LIV. Going down the stretch when you’re in contention is the exact same feelings. That really doesn’t change.

“Winning is winning and that’s what matters.”

At this time last year Rahm had played eight PGA Tour events and won three of them, although his last two events before the Masters had seem him withdraw from the Players Championship due to illness and fail to advance from the group stages of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

“If anything, if I had to go based on how I feel today, on a Tuesday, I feel physically better than I did last year,” added Rahm, who started the first round with a four-putt bogey but still shot an opening 65.

“But then once competition starts, it doesn’t really matter. Once the gun goes off, whatever you feel is out the window. You’ve got to go out there and post a score.

“It wouldn’t be the first time we hear somebody not feeling their best and winning. The first one that comes to mind is Ben Crenshaw after he lost his swing coach and to come back after being at the funeral and win it.

“So it’s not something that I have in mind [fewer competitive rounds], but I do feel fresh and ready for it.”

Rahm faced the “quite daunting” prospect of making a speech at his Champions Dinner in front of what he described as an audience of “all the living legends in this game”.

That audience includes fellow LIV players and former champions Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Reed, but a lack of world ranking points for LIV events makes it much harder to earn a place in the year’s first major.

“There’s got to be a way for certain players in whatever tour to be able to earn their way in,” Rahm said.

“I don’t know what that looks like. But there’s got to be a fair way for everybody to compete. They’ll need to figure out a way to evaluate how the LIV players are doing and how they can earn their way.”

Sergio Garcia claimed his first major title after beating Justin Rose in a play-off to win the Masters on this day in 2017.

Garcia became the third Spanish winner at Augusta National with a birdie on the first extra hole following a sensational duel with Ryder Cup team-mate Rose.

The pair had finished tied on nine under par after closing rounds of 69, with Rose overturning an early three-stroke deficit to lead by a shot after 16 holes, only to bogey the 17th and then fail to convert a birdie attempt from seven feet on the last.

That gave Garcia the opportunity to win his first major at the 74th attempt, but his putt flashed wide of the hole forcing a play-off.

The players returned to the 18th, where England’s Rose was unable to save par after pushing his drive into the trees and hitting a poor recovery, but Garcia finished in style by holing from 12 feet for a birdie.

Garcia’s victory was made all the more sweeter by winning the title on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol Seve Ballesteros.

“It’s been a long wait but it’s that much sweeter because of that wait. I get to call myself Masters champion and that’s amazing,” Garcia said.

“It’s amazing to do it on Seve’s 60th birthday and to join him and (Jose Maria) Olazabal, my two idols in golf.

“Jose sent me a text on Wednesday telling me how much he believed in me and what I needed to do, believe in myself, be calm and not let things get to me as I had in the past.”

Sir Nick Faldo believes Rory McIlroy has at least another decade of opportunities to win the Masters, despite the scar tissue from his previous attempts.

McIlroy famously squandered a four-shot lead in the final round in 2011 and has recorded six top 10s at Augusta National since victory in the 2014 Open left him needing a green jacket to complete a career grand slam.

The world number two finished second behind Scottie Scheffler in 2022 thanks to a thrilling final round of 64 and is second favourite behind the same player this week after finishing third in the Texas Open on Sunday.

Asked if McIlroy, who will turn 35 next month, was running out of chances to win the Masters, Faldo said: “I disagree.

“The game has changed. We have brought the physical element in and we understand the physical side.

“It was always 30-35 when you were in your prime and he is still in his prime. They are so fit and trained now so he has got at least another 10 years I would say of being supersonically fit.

“I still think the problem is times gone by. We are nearly 10 years now since his last major. That is the problem.

“Unfortunately it’s just going on, time after time. It’s not just this season. There’s four or five or six years of scar tissue now, of Rory coming in as favourite, playing great.

“He has tried his best at times. ‘Can I re-set, can I literally forget the past, who I am? Look how talented I am and go and play golf again’. It is not that easy. Can you turn back the clock? Can you delete all the negativity that you have seen and felt?

“I think there is a way where he could find his stride because, as we know, when he finds that stride and gets that trust, then he is phenomenal. I bet that is all he wants to do – just set me free.”

To achieve that goal Faldo believes McIlroy has done the right thing by stepping down from his role on the PGA Tour’s policy board after almost two years of being the most prominent figure in the Tour’s fight with LIV Golf.

But the six-time major winner remains incredulous that McIlroy agreed to conduct a live “walk and talk” interview during the first round of last year’s Masters, an event in which he went on to miss the cut.

“I didn’t like it,” Faldo added. “I thought, ‘You’re kidding me! The Masters?’. Sure, do that any other week but why the Masters?

“I mean, that is one of the most beautiful things about the Masters. It’s you and your caddie, just the two of you and the other players. That’s all that’s inside the ropes.

“And to suddenly bring other people in? Because that’s got to be organised, hasn’t it? And this sort of thing, your manager is going to say to you before, ‘Will you do this?’. Gosh, no, you need 100 per cent concentration.

“I think he’s trying to put priorities into golf. You’ve got to look out. You have a window as an athlete, don’t you? You’ve got tons of time once you’ve stopped playing your sport to go and do all your other stuff.

“But while you’re an athlete, give it 100 per cent. That was kind of my attitude. You know, once you get your mind into other things, business and all sorts, then it’s hurting your golf. It really does.”

:: The Masters will be available on Sky Sports Golf and via a NOW subscription from 11th – 14th April, and you can follow all the latest news on Sky Sports social and digital channels throughout the week.

Open champion Brian Harman believes his experience of handling a hostile Hoylake means he is better equipped to chase more major glory.

Harman was heckled by a minority of spectators at Royal Liverpool and even had one persistent offender ejected from the course before completing a comprehensive six-shot victory.

As a Georgia native and graduate of the state’s university, it will be a totally different story at Augusta National – although Harman insisted he would relish proving his doubters wrong again as much as hearing cries of support for his alma mater’s Georgia Bulldogs.

“It seems like I do better when everyone’s rooting against me than rooting for me,” Harman said. “That’s a new challenge.

“Around Augusta there’s a lot of Dawgs out here, and you hear it all week, and it’s fantastic. So I’ll have to try to channel it. Maybe I’ll just pretend that they’re yelling mean things instead of nice things.

“After The Open I feel as though I’m more prepared to handle whatever comes my way because at the Open and then the Ryder Cup, these pressure-packed situations, I’ve seen myself perform pretty well under that pressure.

“I live to feel those moments. Like, that’s like the drug for me. I want to get in contention in big golf tournaments. So my goal is to try and get to those uncomfortable places as many times as I can.

“I think it just unlocks something (in me), like proving people wrong, or just being your back against the wall.

Harman is making just his sixth start in the Masters and has missed the cut in three of his five previous appearances, although he was one shot off the halfway lead in 2021 before fading to 12th.

The 37-year-old is also well aware that fellow left-handers Phil Mickelson , Bubba Watson and Mike Weir have all won the Masters in recent years.

“Lefties have done pretty well around here (but) I think the conditions kind of have to go in my favour,” Harman added.

“It’s a long golf course. I make no bones about that. I don’t make any excuses about how far I hit the ball or make any gripes about how long courses are. I just show up and try to be ready to play.

“The US Open I had a chance to win (in 2017) was the longest one in US Open history. So the length doesn’t scare me. I’ve just got to prepare myself.

“It’s evolved into a really hard golf course. It’s just one of those things where you want to fast-forward and be on the back nine Sunday making lots of birdies.

“But there’s a lot that happens in between teeing off Thursday and that back nine.”

Tiger Woods received a glowing review from playing partner Will Zalatoris after stepping up his preparations for the 88th Masters at Augusta National.

Woods has played fewer than five-and-a-half competitive rounds since undergoing ankle surgery in April last year after withdrawing from the Masters during the third round.

The 48-year-old returned to action in December’s Hero World Challenge and finished 18th in the 20-man field, but was forced to withdraw from the Genesis Invitational in February due to illness after six holes of the second round.

Woods had also suffered a back spasm which led to a dreaded shank on the 18th hole in round one.

However, having made a record-equalling 23rd consecutive cut in last year’s Masters, Woods will no doubt be keen to at least own that record for himself this week and he certainly impressed Zalatoris in their nine holes of practice.

Asked if the prospect of Woods making a 24th straight cut “blew his mind”, Zalatoris said: “It’s just everything the guy has done.

“You could just sit there and analyse the same stats for his entire career and put him in five different buckets and every one of them is never going to be broken.

“He played great today. He outdrove me a couple times so there was some chirping going on. So, you know, he looks great. He’s moving as well as he can be.

“With everything he’s gone through, it’s pretty amazing to see how good he’s swinging it.”

Akshay Bhatia survived losing a six-hole lead and injuring his shoulder to win the Valero Texas Open.

The American injured his shoulder celebrating the birdie which earned him a place in a play-off with Denny McCarthy, but clinched victory on the first hole after receiving treatment.

Rory McIlroy was a distant third, nine shots adrift, as he completed his Masters warm-up with a bogey-free 66.

Bhatia clinched a place at The Masters with his second PGA Tour victory, which had seemed a lot more straightforward when he held a six-shot lead heading into the final nine holes.

McCarthy birdied his last seven holes to shoot 63 and wipe out the deficit, leaving Bhatia needing to hole from 12 feet for a birdie to force the play-off.

He found the cup to complete a 67 and move alongside McCarthy at 20-under-par, but felt his shoulder pop out of its socket as he raised his arms in celebration.

After McCarthy found the creek in front of the 18th green in the play-off, Bhatia had his shoulder taped before hitting his wedge to six feet and holing to clinch victory.

The 22-year-old will become the first finalist from the Drive, Chip and Putt event to return to Augusta to play in The Masters.

Tiger Woods will inevitably say he is there to win the Masters when he gives his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday.

Woods has always insisted he only enters events if he thinks he can “get the W”, no matter the state of his game or his body, and writing off the 15-time major winner has always been a dangerous game.

Yet there is no escaping the fact that the 48-year-old has played fewer than five and a half competitive rounds since undergoing ankle surgery in April last year after withdrawing from the Masters during the third round.

Having made a record-equalling 23rd consecutive cut at Augusta National last year, Woods’ most realistic target appears to be separating himself from Fred Couples and Gary Player in the record books by extending that streak to 24.

Two-time US Open winner and ESPN analyst Andy North said: “I think playing on the weekend would be a win.

“He’s going to tell you that he’s there because he thinks he can win the tournament but to be realistic, what he’s gone through you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

“What he has to do to get ready to go out and try to play golf every single day is very, very difficult.

“Just to get him there and get around for the week and play some good golf and hit some nice shots, I think that would be awesome.

“We saw him in LA (at the Genesis Invitational) and I thought he looked a lot better walking around from that standpoint. Then his back went out on him. We haven’t seen him since.

“There’s talk he’s been playing some golf, he’s been practising. He’s been doing what he needs to do, but we really don’t know. Is his back okay?

“We’ve talked so much since the (car) accident about his leg and how hard it is to walk and all these other things, but we really don’t know.

“To me, it’s always interesting to see what we see out of him. What he’s given us over the last 25 years has been just second to none. It’s been such a joy to be able to watch him.

“If he were to say this is the last time he’s going to play, we’ve seen so much greatness out of him, good for him if he wants to walk away.

“I mean, he doesn’t have to do this for anybody else other than himself, and I think he still wants to prove that he can do it.

“Would we love to see him come in here and hit a lot of good shots on Thursday and be under par and be in the mix of it? Of course we would.

“Again, if he shoots 68 or 78 the first day, you wouldn’t be surprised that anything could possibly happen.”

If Jon Rahm needed any reassurance that his shock move to LIV Golf would not harm his chances of winning more majors, he did not need to look hard for evidence.

After starting with a four-putt double bogey in last year’s Masters, Rahm ended up battling with Brooks Koepka in the final round and ultimately finishing four shots clear of Koepka and Phil Mickelson.

With Patrick Reed another shot behind in a tie for fourth it was a strong showing for the LIV contingent, who enjoyed even more bragging rights a month later when Koepka claimed his fifth major title in the US PGA.

So while it is undeniable that Rahm’s preparations for his Masters title defence are a world away from those of 12 months ago – three PGA Tour wins in eight starts compared to contesting just five 54-hole LIV events – there is little chance of the Spaniard being written off for being unprepared.

“I came in here last year thinking the same thing about all of the LIV players, the ones that potentially could win, and they proved me wrong,” two-time US Open champion and ESPN analyst Curtis Strange admitted.

“Two or three of them played really well. So I don’t think that’s a point any more.

“I expect Rahm to be ready to go. I think, because of what Rahm’s been through a little bit the last year, going over there, he might feel that he has a little bit more to prove.

“But he’s incredibly talented, great champion at the Masters. There’s no reason why he couldn’t be champion there again this year.”

The stars certainly seemed to align for Rahm last year, his victory coming on the 40th anniversary of his idol Seve Ballesteros claiming a second win at Augusta National and on what would have been his fellow Spaniard’s 66th birthday.

It even concluded with the kind of par on the 18th of which Ballesteros would have been proud, although Rahm still insists his tee shot into the trees, which meant his ball failed to even reach the fairway, was not as terrible as it looked.

“Out of all the great things that week, a lot of people remember the four-putt and the tee shot on 18, which wasn’t as bad as people think,” Rahm said with a smile.

“What stood out to me is I had this image in my mind of how great I played all week, which I did, and then I watch the actual summary and I couldn’t help to think, man, I missed a lot more shots than I thought I did.

“I guess it is a good lesson to have in mind, right? Not only that I could play better in theory but the fact that there’s a mental lesson there, that you’re going to miss shots and you just have to figure out how to minimise the damage.

“Going back to Sunday, it’s always very difficult to put into words. Very few times do I remember in any sporting event to have so many things line up to make something so memorable for a player.

“With it being Easter, with it being Seve’s birthday, with my caddie Adam and me registering as the 49th player and being 4/9, the actual date of April 9th, being the fourth Spaniard to win it, 10th Spanish major.

“Just a lot of little things that made it so much more special than what already winning the green jacket and being the Masters champion is.”

Speaking of special memories, Rahm’s came in the early hours of the morning following his victory, when he took advantage of his new status to access parts of the clubhouse which are usually off limits.

“I was there with my dad and [wife] Kelley in the clubhouse,” he explained.

“It’s one in the morning and I said if there’s a time to maybe get away with something it’s right now, so I asked, can we go to the champions locker room because I don’t know if they’re ever going to be able to go up there again. They said yes.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, to see people’s names on the lockers, to actually see the locker room.

“My dad and I walked out to the balcony looking down Magnolia Lane, what you could see of it in the pitch darkness. Somebody took a picture of my dad and I talking, me with the jacket on, and it’s one of the better pictures we have.

“I think it’s my dad’s or my mom’s WhatsApp picture, which is really cool to see, and then having Kelley up there for that as well, is special.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to recreate that again with any of them, but I’m really glad that they let us do that and they got to see the history of it.”

Jon Rahm will defend his title when the 88th Masters takes place at Augusta National from April 11-14.

Rahm is bidding to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back green jackets after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the main contenders for the year’s first major championship.

Scottie Scheffler

The 2022 champion has been in brilliant form in 2024, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five shots and seven days later becoming the first player to win back-to-back Players Championship titles at Sawgrass. Switching putters on the advice of Rory McIlroy has proved vital, although missed short putts did cost him a third straight win in the Houston Open. Rightly rated favourite for a second green jacket at the kind of odds previously only offered for peak-era Tiger Woods.

Jon Rahm

Started last year with a four-putt double bogey on the first but still shot an opening 65 and ended up winning his second major title by four shots over LIV Golf duo Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson. Remarkably returns to Augusta as a fellow member of the Saudi-backed breakaway, a shock move which ensures his competitive sharpness will be under scrutiny. Will be hoping Koepka and Mickelson proved last year that experience of the course is more important than current form.

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy’s 10th attempt to win the Masters and complete a career grand slam comes on the back of some underwhelming form since winning in Dubai in January, although the world number two remains second favourite behind Scheffler. His recent record at Augusta National includes a thrilling final round of 64 in 2022 and two missed cuts and the four-time major winner is reportedly set to skip the pre-tournament par-three contest to fully focus on his bid to make history.

Xander Schauffele

Schauffele insisted the best was yet to come in his career after narrowly missing out on the Players Championship title, the Olympic champion taking a one-shot lead into the final round only to get overhauled by a charging Scheffler. Failing to get over the line perpetuated the belief in some circles that Schauffele has underachieved, although he has seven PGA Tour titles to go with his gold medal from Tokyo, along with 11 top-10 major finishes, including three in his last five starts at Augusta.

Ludvig Aberg

Most golf fans are well aware of the statistic which makes Aberg appear an unlikely contender, namely that Fuzzy Zoeller was the last player to win the Masters on their tournament debut back in 1979. In addition, the Masters will be Aberg’s first appearance in any major, but the 24-year-old Swede has defied the odds since turning professional in June 2023, winning on the DP World Tour and PGA Tour and justifying his wild card by helping Europe regain the Ryder Cup.

What a difference a year makes.

Twelve months ago Jon Rahm headed to Augusta National as the winner of three of his first eight tournaments of the year, started with a four-putt double bogey and still went on to win the Masters.

One year on, Rahm will make the drive down Magnolia Lane as a member of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League and with just five of their 54-hole events under his belt before defending his title.

The change is all the more startling given Rahm’s previous publicly stated opinions on LIV’s format and his claim that he played golf to win titles, not money, claims reinforced by his comments immediately after slipping on the green jacket.

Rahm dedicated his triumph to Seve Ballesteros after claiming his second major title on the 40th anniversary of his late idol’s second win at Augusta National, a win which also came on what would have been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday.

“History of the game is a big part of why I play and one of the reasons why I play, and Seve being one of them,” said Rahm, whose father took up golf after watching Ballesteros captain Europe to victory in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama.

“If it wasn’t for that Ryder Cup in ’97, my dad and I talk about it all the time, we don’t know where I would be or where as a family we would be.

“For me to get it done on the 40th anniversary of his win, his birthday, on Easter Sunday, it’s incredibly meaningful.”

Rahm was also well aware that his win took him halfway to completing a career grand slam and joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to have won all four majors.

Joining LIV does not immediately impact on Rahm’s ability to achieve that goal, his Masters win earning him a lifetime exemption for Augusta and five-year exemptions for the US PGA and Open Championship.

The 29-year-old was already eligible to compete in the US Open through 2031 thanks to his victory at Torrey Pines, but the question of whether his game will be affected by the switch to LIV remains to be answered.

In Rahm’s absence, the mantle of most dominant player on the PGA Tour has undoubtedly switched to his predecessor as Masters champion, world number one Scottie Scheffler.

Scheffler’s worst finish this season is a tie for 17th and he followed his five-shot win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational by becoming the first player to successfully defend the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

On his next start a fortnight later, Scheffler missed from six feet for birdie on the 18th to force a play-off in the Houston Open, a tournament which saw his run of 28 consecutive rounds under par broken by a careless three-putt from six feet on the same hole in round two.

Scheffler’s form – aided by taking up Rory McIlroy’s suggestion of a change in putter – means he is as short as 7/2 with some bookmakers to win a second Masters title, the kind of odds not seen since Tiger Woods was making them look like good value.

McIlroy is second favourite despite an underwhelming run of form since winning in Dubai in January, while Woods himself can be backed at 150/1 following his withdrawal from the Genesis Invitational, his sole start in 2024.

Making a record 24th consecutive cut in the Masters would be an achievement for the 48-year-old, but the likes of Rahm, Scheffler and McIlroy will have their sights set considerably higher.

Akshay Bhatia shot an opening nine-under-par 63 to take a three-shot lead at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

The American did not drop a shot as he followed four birdies on the front nine with five on the second, including four in his final five holes.

Bhatia sits ahead of Brendon Todd and Justin Lower with Max Homa among a group of four players two shots further back.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is tied for eighth on three under par after going bogey free with three birdies.

The world number two, who recently had a lesson with Tiger Woods’ former coach Butch Harmon, told after his round: “What I’ve been trying to do the last couple weeks is no different than what I’ve been trying to do previously; he just sort of gave me a different way to do it.

“You could tell someone five different things and like for the same feel – like to a piece of a swing, but sometimes none of them resonated, sometimes all of them, sometimes one thing.

“It’s just one of those things over the past few months that nothing was resonating with me.

“He gave me a tiny little something that I went with and, as I said, it’s felt a little better over the last two weeks and felt pretty good out there.”

A win at next week’s Masters will see McIlroy join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to have won all four major championships.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth had a dour round of 73 salvaged by a hole-in-one on the par three 16th.

Rory McIlroy believes his lesson with Tiger Woods’ former coach Butch Harmon was “really worthwhile” as he prepares to make his 10th attempt to complete a career grand slam.

McIlroy needs to win the Masters to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to have won all four major championships.

The world number two started the year well with victory in the Dubai Desert Classic in January, but his form on the PGA Tour has been underwhelming ahead of this week’s Valero Texas Open.

McIlroy revealed on the “I Can Fly” podcast with PGA Tour professional Morgan Hoffmann that he had recently visited Harmon in Las Vegas and expanded on the visit in his pre-tournament press conference in San Antonio.

“I’ve done this a number of times in my career,” McIlroy said. “I met Butch when I was 14 years old, so we’ve always had a good relationship. If there’s one guy that I want to go and get a second opinion from, it’s him.

“I think just after the Players (Championship) and just sort of struggling through that Florida swing and with some of the misses I was having with my irons, I just thought to myself I’m obviously missing something here and I just would love to go and get a second opinion and have him take a look, a second set of eyes.

“The one thing with Butch is you go spend time with him and you’re always going to feel better about yourself at the end of it whether you’re hitting it better or not.

“He’s sort of half golf coach, half psychologist in a way. It’s fun to go out there, I went and spent probably four hours with him in Vegas. He said a couple of things to me that resonated.

“It’s the same stuff that I’ve been trying to do with my coach Michael (Bannon), but he sort of just said it in a different way that maybe hit home with me a little bit more.

“It was a really worthwhile trip and I feel like I’ve done some good work after that. As I said, this is a good week to see where that work has gotten me.”

Speaking before the Players Championship last month, where he carded an opening 65 before fading to a tie for 19th, McIlroy revealed the reasons behind his current struggles.

“I have this amazing feeling with my woods at the minute, but when I try to recreate that feeling with the irons, it starts left and goes further left,” McIlroy said.

“I have a swing thought for my woods and I need a different swing thought for my irons and that’s what I’ve been working on over the last couple of days. I feel like every other part of the game is in great shape.”

Rory McIlroy has consulted Tiger Woods’ former coach Butch Harmon as he prepares to make his 10th attempt to complete a career grand slam.

McIlroy needs to win the Masters to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to have tasted victory in all four major championships.

The world number two started the year well with victory in the Dubai Desert Classic in January, but his form on the PGA Tour has been underwhelming ahead of this week’s Valero Texas Open.

“I went last week to see Butch Harmon for a golf lesson,” McIlroy told PGA Tour professional Morgan Hoffmann on the “I Can Fly” podcast.

“I’ve seen him over the years, like once every few years I’ll say, ‘Hey, Butch, can I just come see you and you can take a look and see what you think.’”

McIlroy added that as he was leaving for the airport – Harmon is based in Las Vegas – his daughter Poppy asked him where he was going.

When he said he was going for a golf lesson, McIlroy said: “She said, ‘Dada, you already know how to play golf.’ That’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve gotten in the last three years.”

McIlroy’s long-time coach is fellow Northern Irishman Michael Bannon, although the four-time major winner has also worked with Pete Cowen.

Speaking before the Players Championship last month, where he carded an opening 65 before fading to a tie for 19th, McIlroy revealed the reasons behind his current struggles.

“I have this amazing feeling with my woods at the minute, but when I try to recreate that feeling with the irons, it starts left and goes further left,” McIlroy said.

“I have a swing thought for my woods and I need a different swing thought for my irons and that’s what I’ve been working on over the last couple of days. I feel like every other part of the game is in great shape.”

Rory McIlroy has been urged to block out all distractions to deal with the “baggage” associated with his attempts to win the Masters and complete a career grand slam.

The advice came from two-time US Open champion Curtis Strange as McIlroy prepares to contest this week’s Valero Texas Open before heading to Augusta National for the first major of the year.

Strange believes that will help McIlroy keep his mind off what he will be trying to achieve at Augusta and recounted a recent conversation with top psychologist Bob Rotella, who has worked with McIlroy on the mental side of the game.

“Bob said the main thing for Rory next week is to stay calm and cool,” Strange said in an ESPN teleconference.

“He had this phrase ‘the mind has to be stronger than the swing’ and I think in Rory’s case that is exactly right because he does have some baggage coming in here.

“He knows he could have won here a couple of times, but he knows he has the game as well.

“So do what you know how to do. Play your own game, play smart, play a little more conservative golf around Augusta and then on Sunday afternoon, if the chips fall, he’ll be in contention.

“One of the best stories I have ever heard is when Claude Harmon was the pro at Winged Foot when the US Open was there.

“They played a practice round with [Ben] Hogan, who said ‘Claude, you have a chance this week if you look at the grass all week long’. Meaning don’t make eye contact with friends, don’t speak to everybody.

“I think that relates to Rory next week. He’s been coming in here for so long with so much on his mind that it’s all about you next week, Rory. It’s all about what you can do, your game.”

Ryder Cup winner Robert MacIntyre trolled his American hosts at the Valspar Championship in Florida after labelling his caddie’s bib with the scoreline from Europe’s victory in Rome.

The Scot, who was unbeaten with two-and-a-half-points in the Marco Simone Country Club in September, took advantage of a quirk of the tournament which allows players to choose their own wording for their bagman’s attire.

MacIntyre opted for EUR 16.5 – 11.5 USA, a reference to America’s crushing defeat as Luke Donald’s side won back the trophy, for Mike Burrows’ bib.

However, Englishman Burrows was not even on MacIntyre’s bag for the Ryder Cup as they did not pair up until a month later.

MacIntyre’s choice understandably received mixed responses. Ryder Cup Europe posted on X: “He’s only gone and done it. We approve” but their USA counterparts wrote “Never too soon to start thinking about Bethpage in 2025”, while the official PGA Tour account simply said “Too soon?”

Unfortunately for the 27-year-old left-hander he could not rediscover the form he showed in Italy, with just two birdies and a bogey in a one-under opening round which left him six off the lead set by Kevin Streelman.

The Scot’s two American playing partners Kevin Roy and Chandler Phillips both outscored him, shooting six under and three under respectively.

MacIntyre is making his ninth appearance on the PGA Tour this season and has missed the cut in half of his previous events, including last week’s Players Championship.

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