AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy stood on the 17th green, waving his arms this way and that.

Then he feigned a jump shot for England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, recreating the NCAA men’s basketball championship game from the night before.

“He was explaining what happened,” Fitzpatrick said after they wrapped up their Masters practice round Tuesday. “It was an exciting finish, apparently.”

Indeed it was, as Villanova swished a winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“Unbelievable,” McIlroy said. “Ridiculous.”

He’s hoping for some theatrics of his own at Augusta National.

Maybe a new approach will help.

With a career Grand Slam again in his grasp, the 26-year-old from Northern Ireland changed his preparation for the first major of the year.

Instead of arriving early, he didn’t play his first practice round until Monday. He also tried to take a more competitive approach, replicating a match-play format his first time around the course, the 3-and-2 victory over Chris Wood clinched by a hole-in-one at the 16th. That was followed by a four-ball match on Tuesday.

For McIlroy, this is all part of a new plan to become just the sixth player to capture the modern version of the Grand Slam. He’s already won the U.S. Open, the British Open, and a pair of PGA Championships.

The Masters is the only thing standing between him and the exclusive club that includes Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.

McIlroy took his first shot at the Slam a year ago, only to be derailed by a sluggish start. He fought back to a tie for fourth at 12-under 276, his best finish ever at Augusta, but wasn’t really a threat to winner Jordan Spieth.

In hindsight, he acknowledges being a little overwhelmed by the moment.

“I think part of that was having so much expectation and thinking of the Grand Slam and thinking of the Masters and thinking of all this, whereas I needed to just take a step back and relax and go out and try and play my own game,” McIlroy said.

As soon as last year’s tournament ended, he began making plans to change things up.

There were no advance trips to Augusta National to get accustomed to the course.

He passed on the chance to come in the weekend before for a few extra rounds.

“I really feel like I play my best golf when I’m more relaxed, when I’m having fun out there and I’m not overdoing it, not overthinking it,” McIlroy said.

The changes extend to Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, a just-for-fun event that he’ll skip this time. Instead, he’ll play nine holes, try to get off the course by 3 p.m., and head back to his rented house to relax.

McIlroy has slipped to third in the world rankings and is still seeking his first win of the season, challenged by plenty of talented 20-somethings who are just as eager to be recognized as Tiger Woods’ heir apparent.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.