By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy has had his share of ups and downs not just this season but at Augusta National as well.
Two years ago, he led by four going into Sunday before an epic collapse and a final-round 80.
Last year, Mcilroy was never in the mix, tying for 40th. His other two appearances here resulted in a missed cut and a tie for 20th.
It's all been a learning experience for the 23-year-old, who tees off at 1:41 p.m. ET.
"They definitely help you, because every time you come back here, you gain a little bit more experience from the previous year," McIlroy said. "You shouldn't hit it there; if you want to miss this green, you miss it this side. Stuff like that.
"You can play pretty sloppy around here, but if you miss it in the right places, you'll get away with it. If you start to short‑side yourself and you start to miss the fairways on the wrong side, then you get into problems."
McIlroy has certainly experienced plenty of the latter this season.
He missed the cut in his season-opener in Abu Dhabi, then was bounced in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
A week later, McIlroy walked off the golf course midway through his second round at The Honda Classic, where he was on his way to another high number, citing a toothache and not being in a good place mentally.
There's been progress since, however: A final-round 65 at Doral, where McIlroy said he turned the corner with his swing, and a runner-up last week in San Antonio -- a tournament he added at the 11th hour in order to get more competitive rounds under his belt with his new equipment.
But can he continue the upward trend here at Augusta National?
When he first arrived here in 2009, McIlroy joked he was afraid to take a divot, noting the course's pristine condition. In the years since, he's become more comfortable. The awe of playing here hs also been replaced by the reality of the hard work needed to succeed -- sort of.
Said McIlroy: "It becomes hard work when you start missing in the wrong spots."