Rory McIlroy’s Masters epiphany after visiting Tiger Woods

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Maybe this will be Rory McIlroy’s week.

Maybe this is the week he wins the Masters for the first time. Maybe this is the week he completes the rare career Grand Slam, which would come part and parcel with a green jacket.

This week marks the 31-year-old Northern Irishman’s seventh try at becoming just the sixth player ever to win all four majors in his career, joining legends Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

McIlroy on Tuesday related an epiphany he experienced while visiting Woods at his Florida home recently to see how his friend was recovering from the horrific February car crash that crushed his right leg.

McIlroy said he was in the family room of Woods’ home, where there’s a cabinet housing all 15 of his major championship trophies.

“That’s really cool; where are all the others?’’ McIlroy said to Woods, referring to the other 67 tournaments Woods has won in his brilliant career.

“I don’t know,” Woods said. “My mom has some, and a few are in the office and a few are wherever.”

McIlroy said that was all he could think about as he drove home after his visit with Woods.

“I was thinking … that’s all he cared about,’’ McIlroy said of the major championships. “He [always] talked about these are the four weeks that matter. So, the weeks that didn’t matter, you know, he racked them up at a pretty fast clip. I’m just thinking to myself, how easy must that have felt for him if all he cared about were four weeks a year? The other stuff must have been like practice.’’

McIlroy figures he’s had enough practice at winning a Masters.

The pressure to complete the Slam was more intense at the start of the journey, after he won the 2014 British Open, which gave him three of the four major championships.

The difference with this year’s Masters for McIlroy comes in the outside expectations, which are lower than they’ve been in recent years based on his inconsistent form and him recently changing swing coaches — from longtime mentor Michael Bannon to Pete Cowen.

Perhaps with McIlroy further from the white-hot center of the radar, it will free him up this week with less pressure.

“I would agree with that,’’ he said. “I think if I contrast my few weeks leading into the 2015 Masters, coming off the summer in 2014 and going for the Grand Slam and my third major in a row and all that, it feels a little more relaxed this week, which isn’t a bad thing.

“I would have loved to have done it at this point, but I realize I’ve still got plenty more years to do it. If I were able to do it, I’d join a very small list of golfers in history that have been able to do it. I know where it would put me in the game and how cool it would be, and I would love to do it one day.

“For me to do that, I just have to go out and try to play four good rounds of golf on this golf course. I’ve played a bunch of really good rounds on this golf course before, but just not four in a row. That’s the challenge for me.’’

In the November Masters, McIlroy finished tied for fifth after shooting 14-under in his final three rounds after a disappointing 3-over 75 in the first round.

Despite not having won in the 11 Masters he’s played, McIlroy has performed well at Augusta. In his six tries at the Slam, McIlroy has finished, in order: fourth, tied for 10th, tied for seventh, tied for fifth, tied for 21st and tied for fifth again.

McIlroy does have scar tissue from 2011, when he led by one stroke with nine holes to play before a triple-bogey on the 10th turned into an 8-over-par 80 and tie for 15th.

One of Cowen’s mantras with McIlroy has been focusing less on how great he was and more on how great he still can be.

“I feel like there’s been a lot of looking back to try to go forward instead of just saying, ‘OK, this is where we are, this is the present, this is what you’ve got to work with, let’s go forward from here,’ ’’ McIlroy said. “Pete and I had a conversation about that: This is me and this is what you have to work with and we go from here.’’

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