'I’m trying to see the big picture here'
McIlroy arrives at the Masters with eye on the future
April 07, 2021
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy during a practice round Monday at Augusta National Golf Club. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Seven years removed from his last major championship and nearly 18 months since his last win, it would be easy for Rory McIlroy to focus on the past.
But the two-time FedExCup champion arrives at Augusta National – the final barrier standing between him and the career Grand Slam – with an eye toward the future.
“I'm obviously focused on this week, but it's bigger than that,” McIlroy said in his pre-tournament press conference Tuesday. “It's a journey, right, and it's a journey to try to get back to playing the game the way I know that I can play the game.”
McIlroy recently added swing coach Pete Cowen to his stable as he tries to break out of a slump brought on by his desire to emulate Bryson DeChambeau’s eye-popping distance.
McIlroy has known Cowen since he was a teenager. Their familiarity was a big reason that McIlroy selected Cowen from the cadre of coaches who inhabit a PGA TOUR driving range on a weekly basis. McIlroy’s childhood coach, Michael Bannon, is still part of Team McIlroy, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for McIlroy to get face time with him. Cowen, meanwhile, has been in the United States for months.
While there may be some concern that the Northern Irishman will get bogged down in mechanics under a new coach, McIlroy promises the opposite is true.
“I'm actually getting away from a lot of technical thoughts. I'm actually going the other way,” he said.
In an attempt to add distance, McIlroy said his swing got too flat and too long. Under Cowen, he wants to gain a better understanding of his swing so he can make quick fixes in the middle of rounds.
“When you don't understand why you're hitting certain shots, you can become lost and you can start to think of all sorts of stuff. And I felt like every time I was going to the range, I was trying something different,” McIlroy said Tuesday.
Cowen is helping McIlroy gain control of his wedge play, as well. His inconsistent distance control with his short irons has often led to squandered scoring opportunities. McIlroy expects to play more “flighted” shots, bringing down his trajectory to better control his ball, and playing more conservatively to eliminate the big number.
“I think being a little bit more in control of what I do, … that's the sort of golfer that I want to be going forward,” he said.
The big number has plagued him several times at this tournament. He had a round of 77 or higher in six Masters appearances in a seven-year span (2010-14, ’16). A decade ago, he famously shot a final-round 80 after taking a four-shot lead into the final round.
Last year, he rebounded from a first-round 75 to finish T5, shooting 14 under par in his final three rounds. He’s finished in the top 10 in all but one Masters since 2014.
He arrives at Augusta National ranked 43rd in the FedExCup, with four top-10s in 11 starts. His recent play has been inconsistent, however. In his last four stroke-play starts, he sandwiched a pair of top-10s between two missed cuts, including a 79-75 showing in his title defense at THE PLAYERS. He did not advance out of his group in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
McIlroy, 31, hopes his recent past is just prologue to a new chapter in his career, though.
“I'm just at the start of a journey here,” he said Tuesday, “that I know will get me back to where I want to be.”