Rory McIlroy taking another crack at elusive Masters, career grand slam

AUGUSTA, Ga. — There is such a thing as wanting something too much — wanting it so badly that desire foils execution.

We’ve all experienced it — whether it’s that girl you desperately wanted to date in college but could never string a coherent sentence together at the moment of truth … or that perfect job you wanted but choked in the interview.

Rory McIlroy wants to win a Masters.

Badly.

A Masters victory would elevate McIlroy’s already-impressive legacy, placing him in an elite fraternity of the only golfers to achieve a career Grand Slam — winning a U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship and a Masters.

Only five men have done it — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.

All are legends in the game.

This week’s Masters will be McIlroy’s sixth crack at completing the Slam. He’s finished fourth, tied for 10th, tied for seventh, tied for fifth and tied for 21st in his five tries since he’s had the U.S. Open, PGA and British checked off the list.

Before McIlroy won the first of his four career major championships, he took a four-shot lead into the final round of the 2011 Masters, shot 80 in an epic final-round meltdown and finished tied for 15th.

So, until he wins a green jacket, McIlroy will carry significant baggage into every Masters he plays.

McIlroy, who seems to have a better perspective on life than 99 percent of his peers in the game, knows it won’t be the end of the world if he goes through his entire career without ever winning a Masters.

Greg Norman, who had more soul-crushing defeats at Augusta than anyone in the tournament’s storied history, always came off like he wanted a green jacket so badly that it hindered him from ever winning one.

Phil Mickelson, who’s famously been chasing a U.S. Open victory — the only major that’s kept him from completing the career Grand Slam — was asked on Tuesday what “advice’’ he would give McIlroy as he tries to cop his first Masters.

Mickelson, who’s finished runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times, politely deflected the question, saying, “There’s not much advice I can give him. … There’s nothing that I can really say to help him.

“The guy is as complete a player as there is, as well as smart, knowledgeable and [he] works hard,’’ Mickelson went on. “So, he’ll win and complete the Grand Slam. He’s too great a player not to. He’s had a lot of great opportunities, and he’s going to continue to do so.’’

Mickelson played with McIlroy in a practice round Tuesday and said McIlroy is “playing beautifully.’’

“I would be shocked if he wasn’t in contention with a great chance on Sunday,’’ Mickelson said. “I remember when I was trying to win a major — any major — and I struggled for many years, but I always knew and believed it would happen, and eventually at age 33 it eventually did.

“He has so many majors already and such a strong game that winning a Masters will happen. And when it does, I think he’s going to win a few.’’

When Mickelson’s words were relayed to McIlroy, the 31-year-old from Northern Ireland said, “I’d like to think so.

“But look, nothing’s given in this game. I’ve always felt like I had the game to do well around here and to play well. It’s just a matter of getting out of my own way and letting it happen. But you have to go out and earn it. You can’t just rely on people saying that you’re going to win one.

“Greg Norman never did. Ernie Els never did. There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. It’s not a foregone conclusion, and I know that.’’

McIlroy spoke of “grit’’ being the most prominent common denominator to the greatest players in the game and said, “I think my grit has come from my failures, and I don’t have to look any further than this place in 2011.

“I learned a lot from that day. I learned a lot in terms of what I needed to be and what I didn’t need to be. I needed to be myself. I didn’t need to try to be like anyone else. I think failure … you can’t be afraid of it.’’

McIlroy will walk to the first tee at high noon Thursday for his opening-round tee time, alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay, and he will play unafraid.

Let’s see where it takes him.

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