|Dates: 11-14 April Venue: Augusta National|
|Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before uninterrupted live coverage of the final rounds on BBC Two, with up to four live streams online. Live radio and text commentary of all four days on BBC Radio 5 Live, Sports Extra, BBC Sport website and mobile app. Full details|
Rory McIlroy hopes a regime of meditation, juggling and mind training will help win a first Masters title.
The 29-year-old Northern Irishman’s new attitude to life has helped him start the year with seven top-10 finishes and victory at the Players Championship.
“I don’t think I’ve ever started a season this well,” said McIlroy, who only needs the Masters to complete a career Grand Slam of major titles.
“It’s focusing on the small things and not living or dying by the results.”
McIlroy has won The Open, US Open and US PGA Championship (twice) and will become the sixth man in history to have won all four majors if he wins at Augusta National.
However, his last victory in a major was in 2014.
“A change of attitude has been one of the biggest keys to how I’ve played for the first few months of the year,” added McIlroy, who tees off alongside American Rickie Fowler at 16:15 BST on Thursday.
“It’s about not getting caught up trying to play perfect golf.”
‘Juggling is catching on’
Meditation has played its part but McIlroy was keen to point out it’s not going to take over his life.
“Look, I’m not going to go live with the monks for a couple of months in Nepal,” he smiled. “I meditated for 20 minutes on the Sunday morning of the Players Championship. My routine now consists of meditation, juggling and mind training, doing all the stuff to get you in the right place.
“I was watching the Augusta National Women’s Amateur over the weekend and I saw a few women on the range juggling, so it’s catching on.”
McIlroy says he is a “rookie” who can only juggle three balls at a time and also explained that he has been reading books on sports psychology, while working with eight-time winner on the PGA Tour Brad Faxon about the mental side of the game.
He will also have a doctor with him at Augusta National this week and says his long-time friend and caddie Harry Diamond “has been with me every step of the way on this journey”.
“It’s getting to the point where I’m almost making more time to practice my mind-set, rather than be on the range,” added McIlroy.
“He’s bought into it and that’s been a big help because he is a calming presence and we feel like a team trying to shoot good scores and win tournaments.”
McIlroy, who had his best chance to win the tournament in 2011 when he led by four shots going into the final round but dropped six shots in three holes at the start of the back nine to fade away, has finished in the top-10 in each of his five previous Masters.
“If I haven’t figured out the course by now, there’s something wrong,” he said on the eve of his 11th appearance.
“I’m comfortable on this golf course. It forces you to be creative and I like that side of the game. I like to see shots, to visualise and that’s one of the really fun things about this place.”
Rahm reveals Mickelson advice
No player in the current world top 10 has won the Masters – a stat that includes Italy’s Francesco Molinari – ranked seventh – and Spaniard Jon Rahm in eighth.
Molinari has had a stellar last 12 months, including an Open Championship victory at Carnoustie as well as success at the European Tour’s PGA Championship, a first PGA Tour victory at the Quicken Loans National and another win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
“It’s taken a while to come but now success is coming quite often, that’s a nice feeling,” said the 36-year-old, who has a best finish of tied for 19th at Augusta.
“I’m not a spring chicken any more so I need to make the most of it. What has let me down in the past is on the greens. It’s a tough test because of the speed so I hope to show the progress I’ve made in the last few months and get a good performance this week.”
Rahm, meanwhile, has been frustrated with taking questions on the same topic for “the 10,000th time” as he prepares to challenge for a first major title.
The 24-year-old’s temperament has been questioned, with added scrutiny coming his way after he ignored advice from his caddie before firing into water when in contention at last month’s Players Championship.
Asked about advice he has received from three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Rahm said: “He repeatedly said ‘You don’t have to play perfect at Augusta National to win’.
“I started thinking, ‘I always thought you need to play really, really, really quality golf to win a major championship’. And he said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t have to play perfect.’
“It’s just the way I am. I’m a very passionate person in everything I do, for the good and the bad.”