AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy may have a lot riding on this week’s Masters but his 19-year-old practice partner at Augusta National on Monday said the Northern Irishman seemed free and easy.
British Amateur champion Bradley Neil said you would not know that McIlroy, 25, gets his first chance to complete the career grand slam this week at the year’s opening major.
“He’s had it probably on his mind the last few months. He’s just a normal person, that’s the thing. He’s just so down to earth and a great guy,” the Scotsman told reporters under the oak tree in front of the stately Augusta National clubhouse.
“You would think he’s in a situation I’m in, just here trying to soak up all the experience. You wouldn’t think he was the major contender.”
McIlroy would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to have won all of golf’s major professional championships should he add the Masters to his U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship titles.
But despite a chance to join that exclusive club only days away, Neil said playing with McIlroy on Monday was like hanging out with a buddy.
“I was able to speak with him about a load of different things. I’m 19 and he’s just six years older and we talked about a load of stuff like girls and things like that,” said Neil.
“It just shows how strong mentally he is ... to see how calm he is on the course about everything.
“His game is great, he’s had a few weeks off. He’s been working on his game hard and I’d be surprised if I didn’t see him up there challenging on Sunday.”
Neil played 18 holes in a twosome with McIlroy before the largest galleries of the morning and won his share of cheers.
He holed out from 90 yards on the par-five second hole and bested the world number one in the ball skipping contest across the pond fronting the par-three 16th, but the focus this week is on McIlroy.
“I know what’s on his plate,” said Neil. “I know exactly what’s in store for him this week. He’s got a chance for history. He’s got a chance to join some of the greats of the game.”
Editing by Frank Pingue