The Tuesday of Masters week is still a relatively quiet day at Augusta, but it does provide the golf media a chance to fire away at the best players in the field as they parade through the press conference room. The first player to take the mic on Tuesday was Rory McIlroy, who was peppered with questions about his girlfriend, his Nike equipment, his rivalry with Tiger Woods, and the state of his game after walking off the course at the Honda last month.
It's been a rough year so far for Rory, but he remains unperturbed by the constant media critiques and handles questions better than anyone. Tiger and Rory, while both now under the Nike umbrella, have flipped positions since the start of the 2013 season. Rory's struggles opened the door for Tiger to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, and Woods quickly took ahold of that perch with his third victory of the year at Bay Hill. It was a dramatic turn since last fall, when Rory appeared to be the best player in the world and Tiger went another season 0 for 4 at the majors. McIlroy maintained his deferential stance, however, when questioned about whether Tiger is a rival. "When you speak of rivals you tend to speak of rivals who have had similar success," he said. "He's got 77 Tour titles, I've got six. He's got 14 majors, I've got two. If I saw myself as a rival to Tiger, I wouldn't be doing him much justice."
The No. 2 player in the world did improve his game last week at the Valero Texas Open, where he finished in second place at the event he added last minute. McIlroy's game has been a bit of a mess this year, right from the start with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, the same week Nike put on a show to introduce their new pitchman. McIlroy said his Nike sticks are a "part of me now" but the equipment questions will persist until he gets a couple wins under his belt with the new clubs.
Even with the underwhelming form so far, Rory has the second-lowest odds at Augusta. A second-place finish, like last week, would not cut it. "Would anything less than a win be a disappointment this week? Yeah, it would be." Even though he has low odds, Rory doesn't seem like a particularly good pick. But he said his swing turned a corner at Doral, where he rebounded with a low final round. The week in San Antonio was about getting more reps with that swing than winning, according to McIlroy, but he was fine with the second-place finish given the lack of results in his previous appearances.
Rory has a bit of a rocky past here. His second nine Sunday meltdown in the final group two years ago is one of the worst in Masters history, and he backed that up with a pedestrian T40 last year. But Rory will continue to keep it light, starting on Wednesday when he confirmed girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki will loop for him in the par-3 contest. Perhaps with some of the pressure off, and all eyes on Tiger, Rory may be able to continue the form from last week and put it together for a third major title.