One of the most vexing questions of golf comes around every April: Why can't Rory McIlroy win the Masters?
He's the finest player of the post-Tiger Woods era. He holds every other major, along with pretty much every major award. He's a threat to win at every tournament he plays. And yet, for whatever reason, he's never been able to close the deal at Augusta.
He's been close, so very close. Back in 2011, he made the turn on Sunday with the lead, but immediatetly shot himself out of the tournament. On Sundays at Augusta, he's charged from deep in the field, and he's been in the final pairing, and in every case he's fallen short. Dating back to 2014, he has seven top-10 finishes, including four top-5 finishes. He's missed the cut two of the past three years, including 2023, but he remains one of the betting favorites every year.
So with this many bites at the apple, why can't McIlroy win? Outside-the-ropes psychologists delve into this mystery every April, but on a recent episode of Golf Magazine's Subpar podcast, McIlroy opened up on his Augusta struggles ... and they're rooted in exactly what you'd expect.
“I think sometimes because it’s the one I haven’t won, the only thing I think about that week is winning it,” McIlroy said. “And that’s not the way to approach a golf tournament.” He noted that, because of circumstances surrounding the Masters, he simply doesn't prepare the same way for that tournament as he does for literally every other tournament on the slate.
"I just feel at Augusta I get too results-oriented too early," he said, "instead of just getting myself into the tournament, playing my way into contention like I do at every other tournament, and going from there."
He used this year's tournament as an example of how he spends too much time watching the massive Augusta National leaderboards ("You can't miss them, they're everywhere") and letting the red numbers get into his head too early.
"This year, Brooks [Koepka] got off to that really hot start, and he was on the 8th green on Friday morning, and I was on the 1st green," McIlroy said. "And I think I was even par for the tournament, and Brooks had just birdied the 8th to go to 10-under for the tournament, so I’m already 10 shots back and I already feel like I need to chase and I need to, like, do something.”
The Masters' position on the golf calendar — the first major of the year — allows for months of buildup, and months of "Can Rory win it this year?" questions. The Masters is the only jewel remaining for McIlroy to complete the career Grand Slam — only Woods, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen have managed the feat — and literally for the rest of his career, the question of whether he can win will follow him at every Masters.
“I probably get in my head a little too much around there at times,” McIlroy said. “But there have been other times where I’ve handled it OK and I’ve had good results.” The problem for McIlroy is, at this point even a second-place finish isn't enough. And next April, the questions will start up again.