(Reuters) - Scribbled on the back of an airline boarding card is the 2015 game plan for the world’s best golfer, a top secret to-do list that Rory McIlroy has folded and securely tucked away in his wallet.
There are seven “little” goals to be ticked off, and if completed, that boarding pass would represent the ticket to one of the greatest golf seasons of all-time.
Although the 25-year-old Northern Irishman is hesitant to provide details, one can safely assume the Masters would feature at the top.
Only five men have a complete set of four majors on their resumes, and if McIlroy can slip into a green jacket next Sunday he will add his name to a celebrated list that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
A second U.S. Open title in mid-June could also be high on McIlroy’s agenda. A win at Augusta National and another at Chambers Bay in Washington state would see the world number one take ownership of all four majors at the same time - - a feat only accomplished by Woods in the modern era.
“Every year, I‘m flying here (Abu Dhabi) ... and I write my goals down in the back of my boarding pass,” McIlroy told reporters this year. “I put it in my wallet and I memorize them but I don’t look at them until the end of the year.”
Last season he targeted six victories worldwide and took four. But two of those successes came at the British Open and PGA Championship after tipping himself for one major win.
“I actually didn’t achieve everything that I wanted to,” summed up McIlroy. “But still a good year.”
Indeed, but 2015 could be a season to be remembered alongside Woods’ 2000 campaign and Bobby Jones’ 1930 Pre-Masters era brilliance when he hoisted what were then all four major titles.
The quest begins on Thursday amid the towering Georgia pines and blooming azaleas at Augusta National, a breathtaking venue that has not been a happy ground for the mop-topped Northern Irishman.
Only once in six Masters has McIlroy cracked the top 10 and that breakthrough came last year when he finished eighth.
Many of McIlroy’s Masters memories are ones he would rather forget, particularly a nightmarish final round in 2011.
Squandering a four-shot lead, a shell-shocked McIlroy staggered to an eight-over 80 to tie for 15th, a meltdown that sparked talk that his psyche and game would be scarred forever.
Such speculation proved unwarranted as McIlroy bounced back to win four major titles and despite his Augusta woes, he enters this year’s Masters as the heavy favorite.
“I know what to anticipate leading up to Augusta,” assured McIlroy. “It’s just about making sure I‘m as well prepared as I possibly can be.”
McIlroy launched his season in style, posting a runner-up finish at Abu Dhabi before capturing his 10th European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic.
His PGA Tour campaign has not been as rewarding. He missed the cut at the Honda Classic and lost his temper at the WGC Cadillac Championship, flinging a club into a pond.
He regrouped to tie for ninth and closed out his Masters buildup by finishing equal 11th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
His ascension has coincided with Woods’ precipitous fall.
Both are child prodigies, but McIlroy has displayed a likeable every man persona that the robotic Woods never managed.
The boy from Holywood, Northern Ireland has followed a career path that reads like it was ripped from a movie script.
His father, who managed a local bar, would take his son to the driving range where the toddler would watch with fascination. When old enough to hit balls at the range, he would sleep with a golf club in hand.
But his climb to the top has not been without slips.
A messy lawsuit with a former management company along with equipment and swing changes have added drama.
There was also a headline grabbing breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
But as Woods’ star fades, McIlroy’s shines ever brighter.
He has taken the number one ranking that was once Woods’ personal property and may soon replace the American as Nike’s top pitchman, inking a five-year deal worth a reported $200 million.
”I want to be that guy,“ said McIlroy. ”Golf is waiting for someone like that to step forward, put their hand up and win the big tournaments.
“Yeah, this is the position I want to be in, and I want to be in it as long as I can.”
Editing by Gene Cherry.