Rory McIlroy was sounding like an old man.
He reminisced about his first Masters — just 13 years ago — like it was ancient history. He conceded that golf is no longer the be-all and end-all in his life. His voice rose with excitement as he talked of playing in the par-3 contest with young daughter Poppy in tow.
“It’s funny. When you don’t have children, the par-3 seems like a bit of an afterthought,” he mused.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the 18th tee during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (Getty)
Not so fast. Sure, he’s no longer the youngest guy on the course, but at 32 he’s far from the oldest.
“I still feel like time’s on my side,” McIlroy said, snapping back to reality.
“I’ve got a few more gray hairs than I used to, but I’m still young at heart.”
READ MORE: Aussie golfer lifts lid on secret Tiger practice hit
READ MORE: ‘Bewildered’ NRL icon’s alarming take on Tigers farce
READ MORE: Leaked texts reveal key man amid Hawks racism row
Yet, with each passing year, he seems a little further away from one of golf’s greatest achievements, a capper to his career that once seemed as sure a thing as the azaleas blooming during Masters week.
McIlroy hasn’t won a major championship in nearly eight years. More than a decade has passed since he threw away his best chance to win the Masters with a horrific back nine on Sunday.
A career grand slam?
Aussie rookie ready for Masters debut
That’s no longer an obsession, not like it was for the cherub-faced, moppy-haired phenom from Holywood (Northern Ireland, that is), turning up for his first Masters at the age of 19.
“I would say less pressure (now),” McIlroy said.
“I’m maybe at a different stage of my life where back then golf was everything. Obviously, look, it’s still very, very important, but maybe back then I would think that, I don’t know, like I was unfulfilled if I didn’t win one.”
Watch the 2022 Masters live on 9Gem and on 9Now .
The Masters remains the only missing link on his majors resume. He won his first US Open in 2011 just two months after his Augusta meltdown. In 2012, he claimed the first of two PGA Championships. In 2014, the greatest year of his career, he won the British Open and another PGA.
Funny how it worked out.
Cameron Smith of Australia plays his shot from the first tee during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. (Getty)
In the spring of 2011, it sure looked like the Masters would be the first of his major titles.
McIlroy dominated over the first three days, leading after every round and going into Sunday with a commanding four-stroke advantage. He got off to a shaky start that day but was still ahead as he made the turn.
Just nine holes to go.
Then, everything fell apart. He hit his tee shot at No.10 so far left they’re probably still looking for it. He made a four-putt double bogey at 12. He finished with an 8-over 80, barely visible in the rearview mirror of winner Charl Schwartzel.
Watch the 2022 Masters live on 9Gem and on 9Now .
McIlroy shrugged off that huge disappointment in the best way possible. Over the two and a half years that followed, he fully lived up to the greatness that was predicted of him.
And, yet, the green jacket has eluded him.
It’s a glaring hole in his record, but he’s not discouraged.
“I know if I play well,” McIlroy said, “I’ll give myself chances to win this golf tournament.”
He has finished in the top 10 at Augusta National a half-dozen times, not really close to winning most of those years but always in the mix.
– with AP Smith gunning for No.1 ranking
WHEN IS IT
The first group of players will tee off at Augusta National at 10pm on Thursday (AEST) and the tournament will go for four days.
Weather permitting, the champion will be crowned on Monday morning (AEST), normally some time between 8am and 10am (AEST).
HOW TO WATCH
The 2022 Masters tournament will be shown live in Australia on 9Gem and streamed live on 9Now.
Gem will broadcast the par-3 competition from 5am on Thursday (AEST).
All four rounds of the Masters will then be broadcast on Gem from 5am Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and from 4am on Monday.
9Now will have three separate live streams following the action on various parts of the course from start of play each day.
Tiger Woods inducted into World Golf Hall of Fame
The 2022 Masters prizemoney pool totals $15,837,000 (AUD).
The winner pockets $2,763,900, on top of taking home a trophy and the iconic green jacket.
That figure gradually decreases all the way down to 50th, which earns $38,000.
The event began at Augusta National in 1934, although it was originally named the Augusta National Invitational.
By 1940 it had been coined the Masters and became one of the premier golf tournaments around the world.
These days it’s fair to argue it is the most prestigious event on the professional circuit.
There have been 54 different players don the famous green jacket in the tournament’s history.
Jack Nicklaus sits alone at the top of the perch, his six unmatched wins to date (he won in 1963, ’65, ’66, ’72, ’75, and ’86).
Tiger Woods has won it five times – the first in 1997 and the latest a stunning comeback victory in 2019 – and he is the only current player within reach of the Nicklaus record.
Tiger Woods celebrates a birdie at the 16th hole during the final round of the 2005 Masters. (YouTube/The Masters)
Arnold Palmer won it four times in the space of eight years, his last in 1964.
Phil Mickelson, who has won the Masters three times and has been Woods’ greatest rival throughout his incredible career, will miss this year’s event for the first time since 1994.
Woods is the youngest player to ever win the jacket, being 21 years, three months, and 14 days old when he lifted the trophy in 1997.
The oldest winner was Nicklaus in 1986 at 46 years, two months, and 23 days.
2021 Hideki Matsuyama
2020 Dustin Johnson
2019 Tiger Woods
2018 Patrick Reed
2017 Sergio Garcia
2016 Danny Willett
2015 Jordan Spieth
2014 Bubba Watson
2013 Adam Scott
2012 Bubba Watson
Scottie Scheffler is the new world No.1 as of only a fortnight ago.
The towering American has this year already won the Phoenix Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and most recently the World Golf Championships match-play event.
He is undoubtedly the hottest golfer on the PGA Tour at the moment and he looms as a real chance to take out his first major.
Bookmakers have Scheffler in the top few contenders, around the same mark as
John Rahm, Justin ThomasAustralia’s Cameron Smithand Dustin Johnson.
Jon Rahm at the Masters. (Getty)
Johnson won the Masters in 2020, while Rahm and Thomas are yet to don the green jacket but have both won a major. Smith is hunting his first major win.
Rahm is the overall favorite to win the Masters this year. He was the No.1 ranked golfer before Scheffler knocked him off the perch.
And, of course, you can never discount the legend that is
The five-time Masters champion made a remarkable return to the top only three years ago when he stunned the field to win the 2019 event.
If he walks to the tee box on Friday morning (AEST), you would be a fool to put a red line through his chances.
AUSSIES IN ACTION
Cameron Smith looms as the best chance to win Australia’s first Masters jacket since Adam Scott did it in 2013.
Last month Smith pocketed a whopping $5 million by winning the Players Championship, the biggest victory of his professional career to date.
That win rocketed the mullet-wearing Queenslander to No.6 in the world. Tiger Woods is the only player to have won The Players and the Masters in the same year, achieving it in 2001.
Scott holes putt to win 2013 Masters Tournament
Smith made Masters history in 2020 when he became the first player to shoot below 70 in all four rounds, and he tied for second that year.
He has finished inside the top-10 at three of the last four Masters tournaments.
Behind him is Adam Scott, currently ranked No.36, and a winner of this event in 2013 – the only Aussie to ever win at Augusta.
Nine-time PGA Tour winner Marc Leishman – who finished tied fourth behind Scott here in 2013 – is back for his 10th appearance at the Masters.
Cam Davis, Lucas Herbert, and Min Woo Lee are the other Aussie contenders at Augusta National, and they all make their Masters debut.
Sadly, Jason Day failed to qualify for this year’s event. It is the first time he will miss the Masters since 2010.
FULL TEE TIMES ROUND 1
All times are in Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST)
10pm (Thursday) — Jose Maria Olazabal, JJ Spaun.
10.11pm — Mike Weir, Padraig Harrington, (a) Austin Greaser.
10.22pm— Larry Mize, Sepp Straka, Francesco Molinari.
10.33pm — Fred Couples, Garrick Higgo, Guido Migliozzi.
10.44pm — Vijay Singh, Ryan Palmer, KH Lee.
10.55pm — Min Woo Lee, Hudson Swafford, Cameron Young.
11.06pm — Stewart Cink, Brian Harman, Harry Higgs.
11.17pm — Zach Johnson, Si Woo Kim, (a) Aaron Jarvis.
11.39pm — Luke List, Matthew Wolff, Mackenzie Hughes.
11.50pm — Danny Willett, Jason Kokrak, Talor Gooch.
12.01am (Friday) — Max Homa, Kevin Na, Shane Lowry.
12.12am — Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood.
12.23am — Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Paul Casey.
12.34am — Tiger Woods, Louis Oosthuizen, Joaquin Niemann.
12.45am — Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, (a) James Piot.
12.56am — Adam Scott, Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau.
1.18am — Sandy Lyle, (a) Stewart Hagestad.
1.29am — Lucas Glover, Erik van Rooyen, Cameron Champ.
1.40am — Bernhard Langer, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Cameron Davis.
1.51am — Charl Schwartzel, Robert MacIntyre, (a) Laird Shepherd.
2.02am — Gary Woodland, Justin Rose, Takumi Kanaya.
2.13am — Lee Westwood, Russell Henley, Corey Conners.
2.24am — Patrick Reed, Seamus Power, Lucas Herbert.
2.35am — Bubba Watson, Tom Hoge, (a) Keita Nakajima.
2.57am — Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Sungjae Im.
3.08am — Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters, Harold Varner III.
3.19am — Abraham Ancer, Tyrrell Hatton, Sam Burns.
3.30am — Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Collin Morikawa.
3.41am — Will Zalatoris, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm.
3.52am — Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele.
4.03am — Matthew Fitzpatrick, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy.
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here !
Masters champions of this century: Winners at Augusta National 2000-present, from Tiger Woods to Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson