AUGUSTA, GA. — Whether it’s the calming effect of having played 81 holes at Augusta National the last 2 1/2 weeks … becoming mesmerized by the drive down Magnolia Lane and walking among the more than 30 species of azaleas in full bloom. Or just respect for the event and the venue.
But Rory McIlroy has called a cease fire when it comes to taking shots at the rival LIV Golf League. LIV’s biggest antagonist is taking the high road … at least for one week.
“Look, it’s a narrative and a storyline, but the Masters and the four major championships sit above all that noise, and that’s the way it should be this week,” McIlroy said.
Masters 2023 leaderboard: Get the latest news from Augusta
McIlroy has come out firing when it comes to protecting the PGA Tour’s brand against the Saudi-financed breakaway tour.
Whether it’s his feud with CEO Greg Norman, ending a long time relationship with Sergio Garcia, snubbing Patrick Reed on the range in Dubai or being caught uttering “(expletive) you, Phil,” during the Netflix series “Full Swing” when talking about Phil Mickelson; McIlroy has been the voice for every Tour player who views LIV as they do a double-bogey.
But with so much at stake — the Masters remains the only major between McIlroy and the career Grand Slam — on grounds so hallowed, McIlroy is more interested in rekindling old friendships than picking a fight.
McIlroy plays practice rounds with Brooks Koepka
McIlroy and his Jupiter, Florida, neighbor, Brooks Koepka, played a practice round together Tuesday.
“It’s a very nuanced situation and there’s different dynamics,” McIlroy said. “You know, it’s OK to get on with Brooks and (Dustin Johnson) and maybe not get on with some other guys that went to LIV, right. It’s interpersonal relationships, that’s just how it goes.
“I think the more face time you get with some people, the more comfortable you become in some way.”
McIlroy says he sees LIV stars Koepka and Johnson while practicing at home. Those relationships have continued, but they can’t help to not have changed because of not seeing each other week-in and week-out.
And one spot McIlroy will not see them is on the 18th green Sunday.
LIV golfers reportedly are plotting a look-at-me celebration if one of the 18 golfers from their tribe wins the Masters. Norman confirmed the possibility of a group of golfers adorned in their LIV logoed-shirts storming the green if Koepka or Johnson or Bryson DeChambeau or Cameron Smith or any of the others are able to hang on for 72 holes. That’s something they never are asked to do in LIV’s 54-hole events.
McIlroy isn’t sure how to react to that “us vs. them” mentality. When asked if Tour players would celebrate if one of theirs won, McIlroy joked: “Depends who it is.”
“I think that only puts more pressure on themselves that they are not just playing for themselves and they are playing for this cause,” McIlroy said. “That might help in some way, I don’t know.”
The pressure on McIlroy this week is adding a Green Jacket to his wardrobe and joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the lone golfers to complete the career Grand Slam.
Rory shed ‘scar tissue’ with final round a year ago
This is Rory’s ninth attempt at Augusta National since winning his third major, the 2014 British Open. He added a second PGA Championship and fourth major later that same year. Since, he’s had three top five Masters finishes, coming closest a year ago when he was runner-up, three shots behind Scottie Scheffler.
“I felt last year that I maybe shed some of that scar tissue and felt like I sort of made breakthroughs,” McIlroy said about the disappointments. “I’m feeling as sort of relaxed as I ever have coming in here just in terms of I feel like my game is in a pretty good place. I know the place just about as well as anyone.”
It helps when you can hop on a plane “on a whim” and play a practice round after planning to play a round in South Florida, something he did recently.
And it helps when you shoot one of the best rounds of your career on Sunday at the Masters, a bogey-free 64 with six birdies and an eagle, as he did last year.
“The only thing that I can say is that I proved to myself that I could do it,” McIlroy said about his dramatic Sunday last April. “As much as I didn’t really get into contention, there was a part of me on that back nine last year that felt that I had a chance, and to play the way I did and to eagle 13 and to have those feelings, in my mind, anyway, I felt like it was a breakthrough.
“I’ve got all the ingredients to make the pie. It’s just putting all those ingredients in and setting the oven to the right temperature and letting it all sort of come to fruition.”
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