Masters 2021: Rory McIlroy visit to Tiger Woods was eye-opening

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McIlroy went to visit Woods at his Florida home a few weeks ago
McIlroy went to visit Woods at his Florida home a few weeks ago
Venue: Augusta National Date: 8-11 April
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, Sports Extra and BBC Sounds. Live text commentary on BBC Sport website from first drive to last putt on all four days. Daily highlights on BBC Two. Click for full coverage details

On Thursday, at 15:42 BST, Rory McIlroy will resume his quest to enter golf’s most elite clubhouse: the career grand slam winners.

McIlroy is used to being the star attraction at most tournaments, but the spotlight has in recent years shone brightest on the Northern Irishman when he has stepped onto Augusta’s immaculate fairways.

The world number 12 does not need to be reminded of what a victory at this week’s Masters would mean.

But just to emphasise the significance one more time: he would become only the sixth player in the history of the men’s game to win a career grand slam.

Those already in the pantheon? Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

A quintet that boasts a combined 58 major triumphs.

If McIlroy were to finally conquer Augusta this week, he would be the first to achieve the career slam since Woods at the 2000 Open Championship at St Andrews.

And, speaking at his pre-Masters press conference on Tuesday, McIlroy revealed a striking anecdote of how he was afforded a new outlook after a recent encounter with Woods, who is recovering at his Florida home following his serious car accident in February.

“I went over to Tiger’s house a few weeks ago to see him and in his family room he’s got his trophy cabinet, 15 major trophies and I said, ‘that’s really cool, where are all the others?'” said McIlroy.

“And he was like, ‘I don’t know’. I’m like, ‘what?’. He said, ‘my mum has some, a few are in the office, a few are wherever’.

“I was driving home and I was thinking, ‘that’s all he cared about’, so how easy must that have felt for him to win all the others. That was just always in my mind, he talked about these are the four weeks that matter, so the weeks that didn’t matter, he racked them up at a pretty fast clip.

“I’m just thinking to myself, how easy must that have felt for him if all he cared about were four weeks a year. The other stuff must have just been like practice. So, that’s a cool perspective to have, right?

“That’s all I could think about on the way home – and I was glad he was OK too!”

Woods, a five-time Masters winner, is recuperating at home following his single-vehicle collision in California in February, a crash that left the 15-time major champion with serious leg injuries.

And while McIlroy is unsure as to when Woods will return to action, he believes the 82-time PGA Tour winner has the mental toughness to come through his recovery process.

“Any time Tiger Woods tees it up in a golf tournament, it’s better,” added McIlroy. “It’s better for the tournament. It’s better for the players that are involved. It’s better for everyone.

“Unfortunately, he’s not here this year. Hopefully, if his recovery goes well, who knows, he could be back in 12 months’ time. He’s always missed when he doesn’t play in these big events and that doesn’t change this week.

“I know he’s at home and he’s fully focused on the recovery process and I feel like he’s mentally strong enough to get through that. Once he does, broken bones heel, and he’s just got to take it step by step.

“I know he’d love to be here, and I’m sure he’s going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play here next year.”

Earlier in his news conference, a typically thoughtful McIlroy talked about keeping his focus on the “big picture” and how he feels he is at the start of a journey that, he hopes, will help him rediscover his ability to shine on golf’s grandest stages.

Chatting with Woods will have certainly helped in that department. Woods was always focused on the bigger picture, and for him that meant majors, the most meaningful signposts on his own journey.

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