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Posted March 18, 2019, 6:06 pm
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Rory McIlroy at peace with pursuit of Masters win for career grand slam

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    Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, after winning The Players Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Forgive Rory McIlroy if his understanding of American history isn’t perfect.

His facts might have been a bit off, but the sentiment came through.

The talented Northern Irishman just needs to win the Masters Tournament to complete the career Grand Slam. This year will mark his fifth attempt.

So when asked if he has put more stress on himself entering the year’s first major, McIlroy said he’s reached a certain peace with his pursuit.

“I’ve become comfortable with the fact I’ve tried four times, I’ve failed, but Abraham Lincoln lost the first 13 elections he was ever in,” McIlroy said. “He wound up being the president of the United States. So I still got a bit of time.”

The four-time major winner was wrong about Lincoln; he lost plenty of elections on his way to the presidency, but never that many in a row.

But McIlroy was correct about having time. He’s just 29, and if he stays healthy he’ll have plenty more chances to win at Augusta.

Winning in general had been a problem lately for McIlroy until he broke a year-long winless streak with a one-shot victory at The Players Championship. After shooting 67-65 to share the midway lead with Tommy Fleetwood, McIlroy closed with a pair of 70s to earn his 15th career PGA Tour victory.

In his first five starts this year, McIlroy didn’t finish worse than sixth. But he was questioned for not winning.

“I think all those experiences this year led me to this point, and ultimately they were good for me because it got me over the line,” McIlroy said after his win at The Players.

McIlroy had last won at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, from the penultimate pairing. He also won The Players from the next-to-last pairing.

At Bay Hill this year, McIlroy was in the final pairing but failed to close the deal for the ninth consecutive time from that spot. That streak dates back to last year’s Dubai Desert Classic.

That includes last year’s Masters, when he played with 54-hole leader Patrick Reed. Trailing by three, McIlroy cut into the deficit on the first hole and could have tied Reed had he made a short eagle putt at the second. But he missed, and the air went out as he stumbled to 2-over 74 and a tie for fifth.

Only five men have won the career Grand Slam — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — and McIlroy knows how special it would be to join them.

“If I didn’t know the history of the game and I wasn’t such a fan it would work in my favor. But that’s not me,” McIlroy said. “It would be a massive achievement. It would be huge. But again, I can’t think about it in that way.”

McIlroy isn’t the only active player looking to break into the Grand Slam club. Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson also just need one big win.

“How good would it be this year if Jordan won the PGA and Phil won the U.S. Open and I won Augusta and three others are put into that?” McIlroy said. “I mean, how good would that be for golf? That would be awesome.”

He also wouldn’t mind getting a seat alongside Spieth and Mickelson at one of Augusta’s cherished traditions.

“I feel like I’m good enough to join those people and that it would just be a very proud moment in my life and something that I could look back on and I would love to sit at the Champions Dinner when I’m 92,” he said.

Winning the Masters has become his prime goal, and McIlroy can’t escape the almost-daily questions he gets, especially in the month beforehand.

“I get excited to the build-up for it and it’s great for the game in general,” he said. “The more times that we can talk about it, the more eyeballs that we get on the game of golf, then that’s good, that’s a good thing. And I really, I don’t mind it. I love Augusta, I love the Masters.”