Forget the new clubs. Forget the swing. Forget tinkering on the driving range.
When Rory McIlroy tees up in the Valero Texas Open on Thursday, he will be there for the competition. With the Masters looming next week, McIlroy believes he hasn't had enough of it, completing just 12 rounds in five events this year.
In the silly jock lexicon which extends even to golf, McIlroy needs more "reps," which explains why he is playing in San Antonio for the first time.
"If it was a par three [course], I would go and play it because that's what I need," McIlroy said last week. "I need competitive golf and I need committing to targets. It doesn't matter if it is a short course or long course or wide course or whatever. As long as I have a scorecard in my hand, that's what I need."
The target to which McIlroy is most committed is Augusta. The course is perfectly suited to his high ball flight, yet his 15th place finish in 2011, when he blew a lead with a final-round 80, remains his best showing there.
While Tiger Woods has won three of five starts this season and supplanted McIlroy as No. 1 in the world golf rankings, some experts believe that Rory has supplanted Tiger as golf's No. 1 head case. They say McIlroy shouldn't have discarded the set of clubs and the brand of golf ball he used to win four tournaments in as many months to close last season. They say he's too wrapped up in his globetrotting romance with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
But if there's anything McIlroy has demonstrated in the last few years, it's his resilience. In 2011, he followed his Masters disaster with a record-breaking performance in the U.S. Open at Congressional. Last year when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island, it came after missing the cut at the Open and three other events.
Some brilliant talents, like Jack Nicklaus and Woods, were mentally capable of grinding without their best stuff. But in the way that Picasso might lose interest painting a house, others golfers such as McIlroy and Phil Mickelson lose interest when they don't have their best brushstrokes.
Which means don't count McIlroy out at Augusta, regardless of what happens this week in San Antonio.
- Kevin Dunleavy