McIl­roy leav­ing noth­ing to chance in third bid for Grand Slam


AUGUSTA, GA. | Rory McIl­roy has turned Augusta into a sec­ond home over the last few weeks, twice fly­ing in for marathon prac­tice rounds that al­lowed him to play 99 holes in his prepa­ra­tion for the Masters.

Ap­par­ently that wasn’t enough. With vi­o­lent storms forecast, McIl­roy got up early Wed­nes­day to squeeze in an­other nine holes.

He played them as though he were see­ing Augusta Na­tional for the first time. On the par-3 16th, af­ter hit­ting his tee shot to 4 feet, McIl­roy hit putts to all four cor­ners of the green from ev­ery an­gle. On the 17th, he stayed in the bunker left of the green hit­ting shot af­ter shot to tees stuck in the green where the holes will be cut.

“The more I can just play the golf course and al­most make it seem like sec­ond na­ture to me, where to hit the balls on the greens and where to start putts and know where the pin po­si­tions are ... the more that can be­come sec­ond na­ture, the bet­ter,” McIl­roy said.

And the sooner he can be fit­ted for a green jacket, the bet­ter.

McIl­roy, 27, lacks only a Masters ti­tle to join five other play­ers who have won the ca­reer Grand Slam, the most ex­clu­sive club in golf. Tiger Woods was the most re­cent mem­ber in 2000. The only player to com­plete the Grand Slam at Augusta Na­tional was Gene Sarazen in 1935, back when the mod­ern ver­sion of the Grand Slam didn’t even ex­ist and the Masters wasn’t even the Masters (it orig­i­nally was called the Augusta Na­tional In­vi­ta­tion Tour­na­ment).

Con­sid­ered one of the fa­vorities this week­end, McIl­roy found him­self in the un­usual po­si­tion Tues­day of de­fend­ing

his de­ci­sion ear­lier this year to play a round of golf with the pres­i­dent of the United States.

McIl­roy told re­porters that join­ing Don­ald Trump on the golf course “does not mean that I agree with ev­ery­thing that he says,” but ad­mit­ted that the back­lash and crit­i­cism he’s re­ceived since their Fe­braury out­ing has been so neg­a­tive that he’d have to con­sider care­fully be­fore be­fore ac­cept­ing an­other in­vi­ta­tion to join the pres­i­dent in the fu­ture. “I’d think twice about it,” he said. “To be called a fas­cist and a bigot by some peo­ple be­cause I spent time in some­one’s com­pany is just ridicu­lous,” he wrote on Twit­ter.

This week­end in Ge­or­gia will be McIl­roy’s third crack at the ca­reer Grand Slam since he won the third leg at the 2014 Bri­tish Open.

He was the fa­vorite in 2015 un­til Jor­dan Spi­eth blew ev­ery­one away.

Spi­eth, 23, who has played this tour­na­ment three times and never fin­ished lower than sec­ond, is look­ing to re­cap­ture the magic of 2015, when he won his first ma­jor with a dom­i­nat­ing 18-un­der score at Augusta.

“I re­ally thor­oughly en­joy this place and this week,” he in­sisted. “I seem to have more fun each year.”

McIl­roy and Spi­eth were both ex­pected this year to chase the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer, Dustin John­son, who was the odds-on fa­vorite go­ing into this week­end — at least un­til he took a se­ri­ous fall on a stair­case Wed­nes­day.

David Win­kle of Ham­bric Sports says in an email that John­son fell on the stairs of his rental home in Augusta on Wed­nes­day. He says John­son landed hard on his lower back and is rest­ing with dis­com­fort.

Doc­tors have ad­vised John­son to re­main sta­ble and start tak­ing anti-in­flam­ma­tory med­i­ca­tion.

Win­kle says John­son hopes to be able to play Thurs­day.

Se­vere storms forced of­fi­cials to sus­pend play at 1:25 p.m. Wed­nes­day, cut­ting short the fi­nal af­ter­noon of prac­tice be­fore the start of the tour­na­ment as well as the pop­u­lar Par 3 Con­test. The forecast is more promis­ing through the rest of the week, though high winds Thurs­day and Fri­day could make the play­ing con­di­tions chal­leng­ing. Sunny weather, with highs in the 70s, is ex­pected for the fi­nal two rounds Satur­day and Sun­day.

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