Rory McIlroy seems ready for the Masters after two straight top-10 finishes

It has been an electrifying start to the golf season. Justin Thomas won twice. Dustin Johnson did, too. Jordan Spieth won. Jon Rahm won. Rickie Fowler won. The run on young studs winning golf tournaments has put an extra surge into the run up to the 2017 Masters.

This time of year is always exciting, but the thought of all the top stars in golf peaking with Augusta looming is especially thrilling. Can you imagine a dual between Johnson and Spieth at the Masters, or a playoff between Thomas and Fowler?

One of the lone exceptions to this at least in the first part of the year was Rory McIlroy. It’s not that he wasn’t playing well. It’s that he wasn’t playing at all. McIlroy had a stress fracture in one of his ribs that precluded him from competing for nearly two months.

He shared his concern about Masters preparation last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I think there’s still a bit of ground to be made up,” McIlroy said, who is looking to touch off the career Grand Slam with a green jacket. “I wanted to play a heavy schedule going into Augusta. I wanted to be really sharp and I wanted to have played quite a few rounds competitively. 

“I haven’t been able to do that for that reason. I just haven’t been able to physically. But I feel good now and I didn’t feel like there was any reason to alter my schedule because of what happened. I’ve played decent in Mexico ... I think I’m OK. I think by the end of these two weeks, I mean, I’m playing three of the next four weeks. I think by the time Augusta comes around I’ll be happy with where I’m at.”

He should be fine with it as of now.

McIlroy played the WGC-Mexico Championship three weeks ago and played the final group on the last two days. He didn’t close, but he showed any fear of lingering rust was quickly assuaged. He went on to finish T7.

Then he came out and struggled in the first two rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week.

“I probably had higher expectations coming in here than Mexico, because of what happened there,” McIlroy said last week. “I played some good golf. I was steady. It wasn’t as if I was erratic and a little rusty. I felt like I got into my stride pretty quickly. Here I was expecting to start a little bit faster and I didn’t.”

Then he fired a 65-69 on the weekend to finish T4 at Bay Hill in a loaded field.

“To see the improvement yesterday and then, obviously, see the improvements today is really encouraging,” McIlroy said after the 65. “So, if anything, even though I’m not as close to the lead standing here today after the third round as I was in Mexico, I probably feel a little bit happier about everything.”

McIlroy struck the ball purely all week. He finished in the top five in strokes gained off the tee as well as with his approach shots. It was his only his putter that let him down (57th in putting).

His ball flight was embarrassingly good, too. He hit all the shots and covered more distance at Bay Hill than a marathoner.

“I found it a little bit on the weekend,” he added. “It’s just nice to get to play again and get to feel like you’re playing a run of events, and looking forward to getting to Austin and getting back at it at Match Play (Championship). Obviously, it’s a different format, but you’re still competing, it’s still a great way to get ready. 

“It’s been good. I haven’t had the win that I’ve wanted, but it’s been good consistent play and that hopefully bodes well for the year ahead.”

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 each of the last three years at the Masters. It is no secret that that tournament is the one that means the most to him going forward. To win a green jacket would mean becoming the greatest European of all time.

Will he do it? Who knows, but after the early season injury followed by two strong showings and the WGC-Match Play Championship on deck this week, he’s at least priming himself well for what could be one of the historically great showdowns between top golfers at Augusta National.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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