Fitness and patience will enable top-ranked Rory McIlroy to handle the Masters’ back nine Sunday pressure better than his infamous 2011 collapse, says three-time Masters winner Gary Player.
And the 79-year-old South African legend hopes to welcome McIlroy alongside him onto the list of career Grand Slam winners this weekend at Augusta National.
McIlroy seeks his third major triumph in a row this week and would complete a career Grand Slam with a triumph over the same layout where he led by four strokes entering the final round four years ago only to stumble on the back nine and fire an 80.
“Rory has had his adversity on the golf course having led, so now he’s got a big challenge,” Player said. “So he’s going to feel that stretch, but he’s ready to tackle it and (he is) very, very fit. I think fitness and patience (are key).”
McIlroy would join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Player as the only golfers to complete the career Grand Slam and would become the first European to achieve the feat.
McIlroy credits enhanced weightlifting in his workout regimen with bolstering his fitness and his game.
“It’s about longevity, injury prevention, trying to prolong my career as much as I can,” McIlroy said. “That’s the reason I got into working out was because I had a bad back and there was reasons for that: I didn’t go in the gym, I didn’t have the core strength and I didn’t have the stability that I needed.
“I would hit 10 drivers on the range and I would feel it. It enables me to practice more and it enables me to play better, to feel more stable over the ball.
“Since I’ve started to incorporate a fitness regime into my game, it has really helped.”
Asked about the tensions the final holes of the Masters can bring, Player said he expects the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland knows them all-too well.
“I think Rory McIlroy could be experiencing that to a great degree this week because he obviously has a chance to win the Grand Slam, which would be a marvelous thing for golf to enhance the Grand Slam,” Player said.
“He’s such a wonderful golfer and such a wonderful young man. I think he’s prepared and I think his story is the answer. He has worked out extremely hard. He’s very fit.
“When you play every day, you don’t realize what a difficult golf course this is to walk until you go and walk it yourself, and walk it from the back tees. It is very strenuous. Practice rounds and the tournament fitness is a great asset.”
Nicklaus said he doesn’t expect concern from contenders down the stretch.
“I don’t think you’re worried,” said Nicklaus. “If I was in contention, I figured I knew what I had to do and just tried to do it. If you’re not confident and you’re not prepared, you won’t be ready to do it,” he said.
“If you are prepared and you’re happy with what you’re doing, then you don’t have a chance to get nervous or worry about it or even think about it. You just go play.
“When we got down to the end, if I had a shot at winning, then that was when I had to really make sure that I focused properly to do what I had to do. And I think the young guys still have that same situation.”