AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy, at 24, is suddenly the old man.
Five years can go by quickly.
As McIlroy prepares for his sixth Masters Tournament, he goes in as the experienced one in his Thursday and Friday group. First-time Masters participants Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are scheduled to tee off with him.
“It feels funny that they are going to be playing their first Masters and I’m playing my sixth,” McIlroy said. “I feel like the veteran in the group.”
McIlroy has yet to finish in the top 10 at the Masters. In 2011, he had the third-round lead entering Sunday but carded 80 to slide out of contention and finish 15th.
“I have no ill feelings towards 2011,” McIlroy said. “I thought it was a very – it was a very important day in my career. It was a big learning curve for me. And I don’t know if I had not of had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it. I learned exactly not what to do under pressure and contention, and I definitely learned from that day how to handle my emotions better on the course.”
McIlroy said the morning after the 2011 Masters was the only time he’s cried over golf. The emotion poured out over doubt — he said one can never know whether that opportunity will return.
But McIlroy appears to be rounding into form. He has three top-10 finishes this season, most recently a seventh-place showing at the Houston Open after posting 65 on Sunday.
McIlroy hinted that he’s better at handling expectations around him. Though he led the Masters at 21 and won the U.S. Open at 22, he said it’s taken a while to come to terms with handling the notion of being someone people expect to do well — to be one of the best.
He also said sports benefit from dominant figures, naming LeBron James in basketball, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in soccer, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf.
With the way he’s been playing and with his experience, McIlroy isn’t shying away from talking about a good showing this week.
“There’s no excuses if I don’t play well this week,” he said. “Everything’s in the right place to allow me to play well. So it’s just a matter of managing my expectations, not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about Sunday when it’s Friday afternoon.”
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