HOUSTON: Rory McIlroy revealed on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) that he will skip the Par 3 Contest on the eve of next week’s US Masters at Augusta to focus on his goal of winning the year’s first major.
“I’m not going to play the Par 3 Contest this year as it’s just too much hassle and it’s a bit of a distraction,” said the Northern Irish golfer.
The four-time major winner will be making his eighth straight appearance in the Masters and only once has he not played the Par 3 Contest at Augusta National.
That was five years ago in 2011 when he went into the final round of his then third Masters leading by four shots before the horrible meltdown of recording a last day 80 to tumble to a share of 15th place behind South African Charl Schwartzel.
“The year I had my best chance at Augusta, and that was in 2011 as I didn’t play the Par 3 Contest so maybe the decision not to play it this year can work in my favour,” explained McIlroy.
A year ago, McIlroy recorded his best Augusta finish of fourth behind Jordan Spieth.
However in the past two years there has been more than the normal media interest in McIlroy’s choice for his Par 3 Contest caddy.
In 2014 then fiancee and Danish-born tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki arrived on the tee having changed the colour of her hair to crimson while a year ago younger Augusta fans were in a frenzy when One Direction’s Niall Horan carried McIlroy’s clubs.
Not for a first time in his career, McIlroy spoke openly of his emotions in remarking he was ‘cheesed off’ following his WGC – Dell Match Play semi-final defeat last week at the hands of eventual champion Jason Day.
And then after losing the third place shoot-out to Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello it was clear McIlroy could not leave the Austin Country Club course quick enough.
Long-time coach Michael Bannon has arrived from Belfast to Palm Beach Gardens and will spend the week with McIlroy at the exclusive Bears Club honing the game of the current world number three.
Sign of confidence
And while McIlroy heads to Augusta not having tasted success on the PGA Tour this year he was upbeat about his chances of not only being fitted with a Masters green jacket but also becoming a member of golf’s ultra-elite Grand Slam winners club.
“I was just so flat out there in my match with Rafa and I was hardly holing a putt out there, and really just wanted to get out of the place,” he said.
“So I will get into Augusta on Sunday night and play Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
“As for my game, I do feel as though I am similar to where I was with my game last year as I am very happy with my game as everything feels pretty good.
“And I guess you can see it as a sign of my confidence that I am not going to Augusta early as the course changes so much just from Wednesday to Thursday.
“So compared to a year ago and all the hype of winning the Grand Slam, I already feel a little more mellow and a lot more chilled.
“This year you have the attention spread between Jordon [Spieth] going back to defend and Jason (Day) winning for a second week in a row and also there’s Adam (Scott) who has won at Augusta before and is coming off his back-to-back wins.
“So there’s a lot more going on around others competing in the Masters this year already than the spotlight I found myself in a year ago.”
McIlroy spoke also of his excitement in having arranged an Augusta practice round with the British-born talented pair of Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick.
Sullivan is making his Masters debut while it will be 21-year-old Fitzpatrick’s first as a professional, and after having made his debut in 2014 as the then reigning U.S. Amateur champion.
“I’ve arranged with Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan to play a practice round with them one day, so that will be nice to sort of show them the Augusta ropes.
“But then they’re also very talented and I’m sure they’ll learn fast.”