Rory: "I didn't embrace my first chance at it at Augusta"

Rory: "I didn't embrace my first chance at it at Augusta"

Rory McIlroy admits he was "intimidated" and failed to embrace his chance to win the Masters when he blew up on Sunday in 2011.

Fast-forward seven years and the four-time major winner is still seeking a green jacket that would give him the final leg of the career Grand Slam.

He's determined to give himself another chance to achieve that dream this year. And after firing a facile-looking, seven under par 65 to trail early leader David Horsey by just two strokes in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the 28-year-old confirmed that he is ahead of schedule and reassessing his goals with just 70 days before the opening round of the season's first major.

It's been an almost perfect start to 2018 for the Co Down man, who took three months off to recover physically and mentally from an injury-hit 2017.

So far, he's made just three bogeys in 90 holes and followed his share of third in Abu Dhabi last week with an impressive start in the second of seven build-up events for the Masters.

Imperious from the tee, solid with his irons and displaying good touch on the greens (as 10 single putts prove), he impressed former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart, who asked him on Sky Sports if he was ahead of schedule as the countdown to the Masters begins.

"Yeah, I am [ahead of schedule]," McIlroy said. "I didn't expect to play as well as I did last week, and it's been nice to continue that into this week. 

"Yeah, I'm ahead of schedule right now, but I don't mind that. That's nice. Just have to reassess everything and go from there."

What's most impressive about McIlroy so far this year is that has made just three bogeys in 90 holes.

Whether he can keep this kind of freewheeling form going until April remains to be seen but what's clear is that he knows now what he has to do if he has a four-shot lead heading into the final round of this year's Masters.

Unlike 2011, when he was just 22 and got too defensive, made early mistakes and then suffered under pressure early on the back nine (shooting 80), he knows what he has to do now. 

Asked after his round about what mental advice he might give British tennis player Kyle Edmund (an Australian Open semi-finalist) ahead of what might potentially be the biggest weekend of his life, McIlroy was clear.

"Embrace it," he said. "Just embrace it. I didn't embrace my first chance at it at Augusta, and I went into myself. 

"I didn't -- I didn't relish it. I was a little bit intimidated by it, to be honest. If I were him, embrace it. He's probably going to be playing Roger Federer in the final. Hopefully, anyway. That would be great to see.

"And he's playing against the greatest player of all-time with nothing to lose: Go for his shots. Not going to get too technical in tennis terms and tell him to start cutting angles and start taking the ball early, but just embrace it."

As for his game, McIlroy was pleased with a seven-birdie round and his start to the year.

"I don't think you could have got better conditions out there," he said. "The greens in the morning are perfect and there wasn't much wind for probably the first 12 or 13 holes. 

"So you needed to take advantage of it today. Thankfully I was able to do that.

"I sort of started the same way last week in Abu Dhabi. I think I only birdied one of the par 5s on the first day but I knew there's so many chances out here and just tried to keep hitting fairways, hit greens, give myself chances. 

There's so many chances out here that I knew if I got into a rhythm that some would fall. I feel like I left a few out there but the end of the day, 65, you're not going to complain about that.

"It's been nice. Needed to work a little bit for that bogey-free round. Plugged it in the bunker off the tee on 12, so it was nice to have a long one for par there. But yeah, another good round of golf. Again, feel like I left a couple out there if anything, but just keep giving myself chances.

"Hitting it on the greens and within 20 feet, feel like I'm going to knock a few in and yeah, look, my game is in really good shape. I'm really happy where everything is and just a matter of trying to keep doing what I'm doing.

"It was nice to get off to a good start that way and sort of put yourself right in contention in the tournament straight away. 

"That's honestly one of my goals this year. I feel like started off last year a little bit sort of 71, 70. Instead of getting right into the thick of things from the start. So it's been nice to start the last couple weeks like that."