Augusta Masters 2021: Rory McIlroy returns in search of Grand Slam

Each year since his British Open triumph in 2014, McIlroy has cruised up Magnolia Lane in a bid to become one of six players to win golf's career Grand Slam.

Already one of golf's big hitters, former world no.1, McIlroy felt an urge to add even more power after watching Bryson DeChambeau bludgeon Winged Foot into submission on way to winning last year's U.S. Open.   -  Getty Images

Like Augusta National's famous azaleas it is a storyline that pops up every April at the Masters, will Rory McIlroy finally win a green jacket and complete the career slam?

Only five players have ever won golf's career Grand Slam and each year since his British Open triumph in 2014 McIlroy has cruised up Magnolia Lane hoping to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan in the club.

The golfing Gods have teased McIlroy as the Northern Irishman has come close to completing his initiation, posting top five finishes three of the last six years but never closing the deal.

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This week he arrives at Augusta with his ranking and form in decline but oddsmaker still fancy the 31-year-old who is pencilled in as the co-fifth favourite at 14-1 by Sportsline alongside former-winner Jordan Spieth.

On results alone there has been nothing in the run up to the year's first major to suggest that McIlroy's time has come.

His Players Championship title defence last month ended in a missed cut.

The only splash McIlroy made at his next event the WGC Match Play came when a tee shot ended up in a backyard swimming pool.

That one misguided shot encapsulated McIlroy's current woes.

Already one of golf's big hitters McIlroy felt an urge to add even more power after watching Bryson DeChambeau bludgeon Winged Foot into submission on way to winning last year's U.S. Open.

Later conceding he got "sucked into that stuff", McIlroy's search for more distance introduced flaws into his swing and something he has been trying to correct ever since.

"After Winged Foot I had a few weeks before we went to the West Coast and I started to try to hit the ball a bit harder, hit a lot of drivers, get a bit more speed, and I felt like that was sort of the infancy of where these swing problems have come from," McIlroy said. "So it’s just a matter of trying to get back out of it."

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McIlroy is now in full reboot mode, the four-time major winner bringing in swing coach Pete Cowen to help with the debugging.

"It seems like to me he went after distance," said Curtis Strange, winner of back-to-back U.S. Open titles and runner-up at the 1985 Masters. "It messed him up a little bit. Now he's got to go back.

"How long it takes him to get back to a comfort zone, only he knows, and maybe he doesn't know."

DeChambeau must shake off last year's frustration to tame Augusta

World number five Bryson DeChambeau will have to shake off last year's ill-fated Masters attempt and weave finesse into his power-driving style to tame Augusta National as the year's first major kicks off this week.

After winning his maiden major title at the U.S. Open in September, the muscle-strapped DeChambeau was a favourite to pick up the green jacket in November at the Masters, which was delayed by seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the picturesque course quickly humbled the 27-year-old American, who boldly claimed he saw the famous par-72 layout as a par-67 but finished 18 strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, struggling with unexplained dizziness.

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"You don't mess with the golf gods... whenever you start thinking it's easy, that's when you're in big trouble," twice U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf analyst Andy North told reporters ahead of this year's tournament, which is back in its usual April slot.

Eight-time PGA Tour winner DeChambeau stunned the world of professional golf last year when he returned to the tour after the coronavirus-mandated break with a transformed physique and new-found power, prompting soul-searching from some commentators over how his grip-it-and-rip-it style could change the sport.

"I think it's really interesting what he is trying to accomplish. It didn't work last fall. It doesn't mean it won't work this spring," said North. "No one else can hit it the places he can hit it right now."

That power paid off at Bay Hill last month, where DeChambeau won by one stroke over England's Lee Westwood.

"He felt like this was a path he wanted to go down, it was pretty aggressive - changing his body, changing his swing - it's worked out for him," his swing coach Chris Como told Reuters.

Como, who recently lent his expertise to retailer Golf Galaxy to help golfers fine-tune their swing, said DeChambeau's game was in constant evolution.

"...the week after Bay Hill, we met up at the Players (Championship) and he was like, 'Okay, I've got to figure this out, I've got to figure it out,' so he's constantly trying to make tweaks to get better," said Como, who counts 15-time major winner Tiger Woods among his former clients.

"Everyone's trying to get better but he takes it to the nth degree."