It remains unlikely that Rory McIlroy has publicly articulated the exact scale of his disappointment when falling short at the Masters – and why would he? – but the Northern Irishman is well aware of the best way to overcome heartache.
McIlroy has three major championships in his sights for the remainder of 2018 but first comes this week’s Players Championship, the biggest tournament on the PGA Tour and one at which victory has eluded him.
“It gives you motivation,” McIlroy said of the final round at Augusta National. “All I wanted to do this year was give myself chances. It wasn’t about results, it was about if I can give myself a chance.
“I put myself in the final group of the first major of the year and it didn’t quite work out but if I can put myself in the final group of some other events coming up, then I’ll have some recent experience and hopefully I’ll deal with it a bit better.
“I’ve got so many opportunities. I’m playing well, my game’s in good shape. We have got this event here, I’ve never won this, I would love to put this on my CV. We have got the other three major championships, everything else to play for, FedExCup, whatever. We’re not even halfway through the season.
“It was disappointing that I didn’t get the result I wanted at Augusta but I took a lot of positives from the fact that I probably didn’t have my best stuff and I still was able to play my way into the final group and contend.
“This is my ninth time here [at Sawgrass], so I’m not a spring chicken any more. I’ve got a few years under my belt – and it took me a few years to figure it out – but I’ve had a few top‑10s here. I haven’t been quite right in contention but I’ve been close enough. I think it is about time I stepped up and gave myself a chance on Sunday.”
McIlroy can also, of course, take solace from the fact he has already won this year, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And should the 29-year-old need evidence of how the Players can transform attitudes, he needs only look at a Ryder Cup team-mate.
Ian Poulter’s share of second place here 12 months ago revived a career that had looked in danger of flatlining. The competitive fires fuelled by the Englishman’s Sawgrass performance led to his victory at the Houston Open last month.
“He went through a tough time with injury and then he had a couple other things happen in his life that I think were quite trying for him,” McIlroy said. “So to see him come through the other side of it and win in Houston was really cool. I was really happy for him.
“He’s played really well this year, and he seems like he’s came out with a lot of motivation and determination. I don’t think it’s a coincidence it’s a Ryder Cup year, but I’m so happy for him. Poults is one of the best guys out here. He’s great company.”
A reinvigorated Poulter has been afforded opportunity to reset his career targets at the age of 42. “I feel I’ve got a lot more in me to give,” he said. “With that in mind, I think I can still win big tournaments. I still think I can win a major. Other guys have done that over the age of 42 and I would like to think I still can.
“To play free, to have goals fresh in your mind, long-term goals, is a good position rather than week-to-week goals. It takes a lot of pressure off you.”
Another player who will not lack motivation this week is Justin Rose. The Englishman could leap to No 1 in the world rankings – a position he has never held before – with victory here. Rose’s compatriot, Paul Casey, withdrew on Wednesday because of a back injury.