McIlroy like a kid at Christmas at Augusta

Rory McIlroy feels as excited as a kid on Christmas morning every time he drives down Magnolia Lane.

But this year the Holywood star is hoping that his special, laid-back preparations for the Masters will see Santa Claus turn up early and leave a green jacket under the tree.

Determined to wipe away the bad memories of last year’s missed cut by grabbing his first major in just his third Masters appearance on Sunday, McIlroy reckons he’s better prepared than ever before.

He said: “I was flying up here for some practice last Thursday and it was the same feeling you get on Christmas morning. You can’t sleep. You are up at five, you are up at six. It’s a very special place for any golfer.

“It doesn’t matter if you are coming back for the third time or your 12th or 20th. It is just a very special place.”

The last man to register yesterday, McIlroy joked: “They gave me No 99. That’s fine, so long as I don’t shoot it!

“I am feeling good. I had 10 really good days of practice in Florida and I came here and got a good couple of days work done last Thursday and Friday.

“I am feeling pretty good. I feel like I have done most of my preparation. I have mapped the greens, I have done everything.

“I am basically just going to go out and play nine today, nine tomorrow, conserve energy and just put everything I have into the four days.”

McIlroy’s upbeat mood was a major contrast to 12 months ago when he missed the cut for the first time in a major, complained of a bad back and confessed that the game was getting him down.

But he learned a major lesson that week and has since changed the way he approaches the majors.

He’s now decided that playing less golf keeps him fresh and raring to go when he turns up for the big events.

And while the Masters will be just his sixth start of the season, he reckons he’s got the game to challenge for his first major win.

Reflecting his change of mood over the last year, he said: “I feel so much better about my whole season and my game.

“Coming in here last year I had just missed the cut at Houston, my back wasn’t feeling too good and I wasn’t in a great place.

“This year I feel like I have paced myself well. I have only played five tournaments and had a chance to win a couple.

“It hasn’t quite come off but I feel as if I am trying to pace myself and I feel very fresh and ready to get out there and give it a good go.”

McIlroy spent two weeks playing golf at home with his pals after last year’s Masters disaster and came back out to finish third in The Open and the US PGA.

And he’s decided to repeat that tactic this year by playing fun golf with pal Harry Diamond, Ryder Cup team mate Luke Donald and American big-hitter Dustin Johnson.

Confessing that he has geared all his early season preparation into making a run at Augusta, McIlroy said: “It’s just a great feeling to be back. Every time you get your invitation in the post, from the start of the season you are trying to get your game ready for this tournament.

“The last two seasons I have been trying to just play and try and win  everything. But this year I have been trying to gear my game towards this tournament from going out to Dubai on 7 January

“I said from 7 January to 7 April all I am doing is trying to get my game in shape for here.

“From 7 April to 16 August I am just trying to go with what I have. That is the main part of the season for us. But I feel that this is where the season really starts.”