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Rory McIlroy admits he ‘wouldn’t be fulfilled’ without claiming a Masters title

The Guardian logo The Guardian 2/04/2017 Ewan Murray at Augusta
Rory McIlroy plays from a bunker during last year’s Masters. The Augusta course was the scene of a painful collapse in the closing stages of the 2011 tournament. © AFP/Getty Images Rory McIlroy plays from a bunker during last year’s Masters. The Augusta course was the scene of a painful collapse in the closing stages of the 2011 tournament.

As he prepares for a third attempt at completing a grand slam of major championships, Rory McIlroy has admitted he “wouldn’t be fulfilled” without claiming the Masters.

Related: Masters 2017: Contenders and outsiders to watch, from Johnson to Luck

McIlroy has not won a major since August 2014, when success at Valhalla afforded him a second US PGA Championship. The Masters remains the only one of the big four events to elude the Northern Irishman, and the significance of that is not something he will readily understate. Whatever else McIlroy might lack in the coming days, motivation is not in doubt.

“I’d love to give you an answer and say my life is already fulfilled with everything that’s happened and everything that’s going to happen in the future, by starting a family and all that,” McIlroy said. “But if I didn’t have a Green Jacket there would be a tiny piece that would just be missing. It really would be. I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.

“I said it in an interview when I was eight years old; I want to be the best golfer in the world and I want to win all the majors. I’ve nearly done all of that. There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”

McIlroy will obviously begin this, the 81st Masters, as a live contender having claimed top-10 finishes on each of his last three visits to Augusta. It is commonly forgotten, but little over six months have passed since the 27-year-old won two FedEx playoff events, thereby claiming the $10m bonus pool. Thereafter, McIlroy was inspired, despite Europe losing to the USA team in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

“The Ryder Cup brings out emotions in me I didn’t think I had,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t think I’d act like that. I watch it back now and I’m like: ‘Wow, I don’t think I could get any more fired up than that.’ It’s definitely different for a golf event and it was the first event I felt like the away team.

“I’d never want to feel intimidated by the opposing crowd, but you’re up against it. You’re not just playing your opponent. You’re playing the 50,000 people yelling at you as well. As a golfer, you don’t get that very often. I got into it. I got into it on the golf course, I got into it with the fans.”

Speaking to espn.com, McIlroy looked further back, to his painful collapse over the closing stretch of the Masters in 2011, which was almost immediately followed by victory at the US Open. “That was probably the most important two months of my life and the most important two months of my career,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself as a golfer. I knew everything that happened at Augusta that went wrong. I knew what I needed to do to fix it and make sure that didn’t happen again.”

McIlroy, once inspired by Tiger Woods, has featured in every Masters since 2009. Memories of that debut remain vivid, if not entirely for positive reasons. “I remember thinking to myself: ‘I’m never going to have that experience again, of watching it the way I did as a kid,’” he said. “People remember watching Masters Sunday. I had grown up with the Masters, and sitting down with my dad and watching, rooting for Tiger to win.

“Hopefully kids are now watching me try to win a Green Jacket, and hopefully they get that same excitement from watching me try to succeed.”

Having missed the cut at the Shell Houston Open last week, Jordan Spieth was among those at Augusta on Sunday morning to witness the children’s Drive, Chip and Putt event.

The Texan has revealed that in December, on his first visit back to the 12th hole where a Sunday seven last year essentially cost him a second successive Masters, he made a birdie two. “I was walking around with my hands up, like the demon was gone,” Spieth said.

Good news for the Masters organisers has arrived via improved weather forecast. Whereas early predictions were that this week could be beset by storms, detail as issued on Sunday highlights only Thursday morning as carrying a thunder threat. Both Thursday and Friday, however, are set to see gusts in excess of 20mph.

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