Golf: McIlroy tries again to complete Grand Slam at delayed Masters

(Reuters) - Rory McIlroy’s quest to complete a career Grand Slam continues for a sixth consecutive year at the Masters this week and the Northern Irishman feels he could benefit from playing Augusta National in cooler autumn temperatures without spectators.

FILE PHOTO: Oct 23, 2020; Thousand Oaks, California, USA; Rory McIlroy stands on the green of the 10th hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Masters is usually held in April as the first major of the year and signals the start of spring for most of the United States but the COVID-19 outbreak forced a postponement of the tournament and the quieter build-up sits well with McIlroy.

“I like this more,” said the 31-year-old, who has collected nine of his 18 PGA Tour victories in August or later. “There’s not as much hype... I sort of like this better.”

The pressure of a Grand Slam pursuit has been following McIlroy around since he won the 2014 British Open, a victory that gave him three of the four major championships. He went on to win that year’s PGA Championship for his fourth major.

Should McIlroy slip into a Green Jacket this year, he would become only the sixth man to win all four of golf’s blue riband events, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

“Look, game’s there, hitting plenty of good shots, giving myself plenty of chances,” McIlroy said in late October after a final-round 66 at the Zozo Championship in his last competitive appearance ahead of the Nov. 12-15 Masters.

McIlroy came agonisingly close to winning a Green Jacket in 2011 when he led by one stroke with nine holes to play before a triple-bogey at the 10th where his drive sailed out of bounds. He closed with an eight-over 80 and finished in a tie for 15th.

But despite lacking a triumph in 11 Masters appearances, McIlroy’s overall record at Augusta National is strong as he has five top-10 finishes there in his past six starts.

This year’s Masters will be unlike any other given its later start, prevailing winds from the north, cooler temperatures that could see the course play longer than usual and greens that may not be as fast as usual.

“It’s going to be a different Masters, and personally, selfishly, maybe that’s what I need to get the (Green Jacket),” added McIlroy.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris