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Posted April 02, 2017 01:04 pm
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Preparation game differs for players

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    Preparation game differs for players
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    Rory McIlroy tees off on No. 4 during the final round of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club, Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Augusta, Georgia. (File/Staff)

Rory McIlroy has found there is no perfect way to prepare for a major championship.

It is a “very inexact science,” the four-time major champion said.

Some players come in weeks before the Masters Tournament, the first major of each year, to play Augusta National Golf Club just to “get a refresher,” as British Open champion Henrik Stenson calls it.

Others come the week before the tournament and practice before the crowds arrive for the practice rounds that start today.

Jason Day showed up on Friday this year.

Many players, such as Day and McIlroy, take the week off before the Masters to prepare at home.

Then there are those like Rickie Fowler, Stenson and Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott who like to play their way into the Masters by competing in the tournament the week before, which is the Houston Open. Stenson (74-75), Spieth (69-77) and Scott (68-77) all missed the cut there Friday.

“I’ve tried many things,” said McIlroy, who tied for 10th in the Masters last year after skipping Houston. “I’ve played the week before Augusta; I haven’t. I played the week before majors that I’ve won; I haven’t played the week before majors that I have. You can do a lot of different things to prepare, and I’ve done it a few different ways and been successful. So, I don’t know if that’s been a good thing or a bad thing, because I’m always trying to mix it up and change.”

McIlroy tried something different leading into the Masters last year – he didn’t come up for a pre-tournament visit. This year he did.

Playing Houston as a prelude to the Masters last year might have worked for Spieth and Lee Westwood, who ended up sharing second place in the Masters. Spieth had tied for 13th at Houston, and Westwood missed the cut.

Overall, however, playing in Houston didn’t translate into a high finish at Augusta National for most players last year. Only four of the 14 players who finished in the top 10 at Augusta National had played in Houston. In addition to Spieth and Westwood, they were Dustin Johnson (third in Houston and tied for fourth in the Masters) and Daniel Berger (fifth in Houston and tied for 10th in the Masters).

Johsnon, now No. 1 in the world rankings, planned to play Houston, as usual, but withdrew after playing seven matches in five days en route to the Dell Match Play victory the previous week.

The Golf Club of Houston tries to set up the course with some characteristics of Augusta National, such as shaved fringes and slick bentgrass greens.

Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, has played Houston in the past, but didn’t this year.

“Well, my argument is if you really wanted to practice for Augusta setup, why don’t you just go to Augusta and see the real thing?” he said.

Part of McIlroy’s pre-major preparation at home, he said, is to practice shots he’ll face at that course. That’s easy to do for the Masters, the lone major played at the same venue each year.

It’s not just hitting the shots, though. There is mental preparation involved. It can happen by playing the week before (in Stenson’s case) or not (Day).

“I can never guarantee that I’m going to play well at a certain week and peak at a certain week,” Stenson said. “Not so much maybe with the game, it’s probably more mentally you can try and give yourself the right ingredients and if you really want something, you’re going to aim for that and that’s going to be in the back of your mind over a long period of time. And when you finally get there, I think if you really want it, that kind of mental preparation in the lead-up is going to help you for that.”

Said Day: “When it comes to major golf, I think it’s the attitude and the emotion that you bring into it. If you come in with the right attitude, yeah, you most likely will do well.”

Stenson said a player might peak too early for a major but be ready to win the next week.

“It’s not uncommon you see if someone doesn’t quite do it that week they might be pretty dangerous the week after, because you always got all that prep work and time and also you might have a little bit of a revenge if you don’t get what you want that week in a major or whichever tournament it might be, then you might play really well the week after. So, that might be something to bear in mind.”

The bottom line is scoring when the tournament starts, McIlory said.

“You can do as much preparation as you want for a golf tournament, but if you don’t execute the shots when you’re there, when you need to under the gun, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.