SIPA USA/PA Images Rory McIlroy (left) and Paul McGinley at last year's Open in Carnoustie.
# Georgia on my mind
'This is the best golf I’ve ever seen Rory play. There’s no doubt he's had the best form of anybody this year'
Paul McGinley says the four-time major winner has the code to crack The Masters puzzle next week in Augusta.

AUGUSTA NATIONAL IS on the horizon again for Rory McIlroy.

In previous years, questions have followed several close misses and those weighing up his chances have gone from asking when he will win the The Masters, to whether he will ever don a Green Jacket.

Last year, McIlroy went head-to-head with 2016 Ryder Cup rival Patrick Reed but came up short once again in Georgia despite being in Sunday’s final pairing.

At this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, a sixth place finish after starting Sunday in the final pairing extended his run without a win among the final day leaders to nine events.

Despite this, the 29-year-old has produced some excellent performances since the turn of the year; notching four top-five finishes and on St Patrick’s Day winning the ‘unofficial fifth major’ – The Players Championship at Sawgrass.

Last week’s disappointing defeat to Tiger Woods in the WGC Match Play aside, former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley says he’s been taken aback by the level McIlroy’s performances since January.

GAA Games Development Conference in partnership with Sky Sports David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE Sky Sports analysts, Paul McGinley. David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“If we’re just looking at form, there’s no doubt that Rory has the best form of anybody in the game over the first three months of the year,” he said.

“He’s risen from #9 in the world to #3. It looks very impressive. It’s not just a run of having good results.

If you look behind the statistics, the best three months of his career was the summer of 2014 – where he won two majors and a world golf event.

“I looked at the stats for those three months last week and if you compare them with the three months at the start of this year, they’re almost identical.

It’s unbelievable to see that. Because, actually, it’s not just the performances of his finishes, he can get the finishes alright, but this is what’s behind it.

“He’s completely dominating everyone in the world off the tee. In strokes-game driving, he’s nearly three times better than the second-placed guy.

“Everything else is comparable to 2014, including his putting which is slightly better now than it was five years ago.

It’s a pretty formidable start to the season for McIlroy. I know he’s only had one win and the disappointment last week when his performance dropped against Tiger – but he’s got to be very buoyed by the trend.

“It’s set up very nicely for him to go and achieve the Grand Slam.”

Golf 2019: The Players Championship David Rosenblum Rory McIlroy emerges victorious at TPC Sawgrass. David Rosenblum


McIlroy has undergone quite a personal transformation this past year.

Speaking earlier in March, the four-time major winner noted: “In the last six or seven months, I’ve recognised I cant let golf define me as a person. In the past, I’d let what I’d shot that day influence my mood, but no more.

I haven’t taken any heed when people are saying ‘he can’t close anymore’, ‘he can’t do it on Sundays’, blah, blah, blah… I’ve just got to do my thing, control what I can and good golf will take care of the rest.”

McGinley agrees that an adjustment in his attitude toward the game has allowed him to free himself of the negativity that has previously hampered his performances.

“We’re seeing a more mellow McIlroy, a more mature McIlroy. We’re seeing a more consistent McIlroy,” McGinley explained.

“Pressure gets to everyone, there’s no doubt about that. There’s not a player in the history of the game who hasn’t had to deal with pressure.

It’s hard to be critical of his performances under pressure. You look at what he’s achieved – it’s only Tiger and Jack Nicklaus who have achieved more than him by the age of 30.

“It’s a question of time and a question of being patient.”

He added: “Winning majors and trying to win a Grand Slam is not easy. There’s a reason only five guys in the history of the game have ever achieved it.

Phil Mickelson has been standing on the threshold for a number of years now trying to get over the line as a Grand Slam winner.

“McIlroy is becoming better equipped to try and achieve it – certainly listening to his interviews and his body language, I think he’s better prepared this year to overcome the mental obstacles of trying to win a Grand Slam than he’s ever been.”

Golf - The Open Championship 2014 - Day Four - Royal Liverpool Golf Club EMPICS Sport Rory McIlroy after winning The Open in 2014 - the most successful year of his career to date. EMPICS Sport

McGinley had spoken previously about McIlroy and the Northern Irishman’s ‘pointy elbows’ – alluding to his ability to be able to “see the finishing line and being able to get himself over it”.

The 52-year-old says there’s been some evidence in this year’s performances to show his ability to close out big tournaments.

“I don’t think we can say for sure. He certainly accepted the fight in Sawgrass because he played the last 10 holes in -4, when other guys were dropping shots.

“He played the last four holes impeccably to get over the line.

It’s too early to say that’s it’s 100% there again, but certainly the signs are very strong. This is the best golf I’ve ever seen McIlroy play, these last three months, and I’ve followed his career very closely.

“I think he’s absolutely on the right track and the work he’s doing behind the scenes is certainly reaping dividends.”

McGinley agrees that while some work has been done on his fundamental skills, not least on his putting ability, but that the lion’s share of the improvement has come from his ability to block out the noise.

“I think [the improvement] is 90% mental. His swing looks very good to me and he’s done a lot of work in the past on the fundamentals of his putting.

But one of the biggest challenges sports people have is – and particularly in golf – is they try too hard. They get in their own way.

“All the golf psychology and I’ve worked with various golf psychologists in the past, what I’ve found is that it’s about getting out of your own way.

That’s what I think Rory has been doing with Brad [Faxon]. We all know how talented he is and now that free-flowing talent is coming through and it’s not being stifled.

“That’s why we’re seeing that level of consistency and why we hear him say that he’s not putting too much pressure on himself.

We’re seeing a different attitude from McIlroy this year.”

Sky Sports will have unmissable golf action with unrivalled coverage of all 4 days of The Masters live from Augusta.  It’s the first of all 4 Majors live only on Sky Sports’ dedicated golf channel.

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