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Posted April 9, 2019, 9:45 pm
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Boyette: McIlroy's Grand Slam quest becomes a different animal

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    Rory McIlroy points across the green during the second practice round. This will be his 11th Masters appearance and his fifth attempt at the career Grand Slam. [NIGEL COOK/FOR THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Rory McIlroy needs to go ahead and win this week.

The elephant in the room, the monkey on his back – pick your metaphor – will only get bigger with each passing year he doesn’t win the Masters Tournament.

It’s the only title he lacks for the career Grand Slam, and he would be the sixth player to achieve that feat. He would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

This will be McIlroy’s fifth chance to join the exclusive club. He hasn’t finished worse than 10th in any of those attempts, but he squandered a grand opportunity last year. In the final pairing with Patrick Reed, McIlroy blinked first and wasn’t much of a factor once the pair made the turn.

PHOTOS: Rory McIlroy at the Masters

Truth be told, McIlroy should already have the career Grand Slam. In 2011, he dominated Augusta National for 54 holes but the dream of winning his first major turned into a nightmare with his triple at the 10th, a bogey at the 11th and a double at the 12th.

McIlroy shrugged it off by winning the U.S. Open two months later. He added the PGA a year later, then doubled his major total by winning the British Open and PGA in 2014.

These days, McIlroy is exuding an inner confidence that perhaps was lacking in past years. His results on the course show it: he’s finished in the top 10 in all seven PGA Tour events this calendar year, including a win at The Players last month.

“My mindset is a little different in terms of, you know, I’m still practicing,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I’m still getting better. I’m not getting ahead of myself. Not thinking about the tee shot on Thursday or thinking about, you know, what is to come this week, and that’s something I probably will never stop trying to learn or to practice. But I’m in a good place with it.”

The media and McIlroy danced around the situation before someone finally uttered the words “grand slam.” He said the changes he’s made aren’t necessarily to win at Augusta.

“It’s to make the most of the next 20 years of my career. It’s not just about one week,” said McIlroy, who will turn 30 next month. “This is a lifelong journey of trying to improve and learn and try to master my craft, which is golf. That’s what I’ve chosen as what I want to do, and with my life. That’s a lifelong pursuit. It’s not just one week a year.”

Putting guru Brad Faxon has been working with McIlroy for more than a year now, and not just on his putting stroke.

“It’s more mental side of the game and how he approached it, so he’s been a wonderful sounding board and has become a very good friend in the process,” he said.

He’s even dabbled in meditation, something he said he did for 20 minutes on the morning before he won The Players.

“My routine now consists of meditation, juggling, mind training, you know, doing all the stuff to get yourself in the right place,” he said.

In fairness to McIlroy, none of the other five Grand Slam winners had to deal with the noise of social media. Woods would be the closest, but he completed the slam by winning the British Open in his first chance in 2000 so there was never time for it to fester into a problem.

“Rory McIlroy is followed everywhere by those questions, incessantly,” Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said earlier this week. “Imagine a tight-rope walker, and as he’s walking along the tight-rope, somebody is saying, ‘What if you fail? What if you fall?’

“I do believe though that Rory is different this year, because he’s armed himself intellectually to sort of combat the constant scrutiny of whether or not he will eventually win the career Grand Slam. I really do think that Rory is looking inward now. He can control the narrative, as opposed to those asking the questions controlling the narrative.”

McIlroy can write his own destiny this week. This will be his 11th Augusta appearance, and history tells us that only eight winners have needed that many attempts or more to win the Masters. None of them were going for the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy knows what’s at stake this week. Don’t be surprised if he comes through and becomes the first player since Sarazen to complete his career Grand Slam in Augusta.

“Again, you know, I keep saying this, I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,” McIlroy said. “If it doesn’t happen this week, that’s totally fine, I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it.

“But I’m happy with where everything is, body, mind, game.”