As he picked up the European money list trophy for the second time in three seasons on Sunday, Rory McIlroy had two words to say when asked for his goals for 2015: “Green Jacket”.
To golfers, that phrase means one thing — winning the U.S. Masters, the only major championship to elude the Northern Irishman.
“It’s not something I thought possible, I will work hard and make sure I’m ready for that,” McIlroy told reporters after tying for second at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the European Tour season-ender.
Winning in Augusta will be tough — no European has done it since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 — yet world number one McIlroy is well equipped to end the drought after a season in which he claimed a maiden British Open title, a second U.S. PGA crown and two other European Tour victories.
“In terms of ball striking, I’ve driven it better, which is a huge part of my game,” McIlroy told reporters.
“When I drive it well I can give myself shorter irons into greens and more opportunities for birdies. My mid-range putting has been very good this year.”
The 25-year-old admitted the pressure of being the world’s best had been difficult to handle.
“I used to be uncomfortable. There’s added scrutiny and there’s added criticism,” said McIlroy. “But I learned to deal with it. It’s just part of the title. I want to keep it for as long as I possibly can.”
McIlroy’s 2014 resurgence happened despite off-course dramas. He split up with his fiancee, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, and is involved in a legal dispute with his former agents which led him to miss some tournaments.
“I learned a lot from it. I feel I came through this year stronger and wiser and can go into 2015 in a much better place,” said McIlroy.
He said he was encouraged to finish just adrift of Dubai winner Henrik Stenson despite three undistinguished rounds following Thursday’s opening 66.
“It’s a really big positive, not just going into next year, but the rest of my career,” McIlroy added.
“In seasons gone by, a bad week for me would have been middle of the pack or if there was a cut, maybe battling to make the cut.”
(Editing by Ian Chadband)