The Masters: McIlroy takes the Murray route to revive his career
Rory McIlroy returns in the New Year after four months out. Ralph Ellis looks at how the former world number one is preparing.
"Once the boy who looked like dominating the sport for years, he went through last year without a single tournament victory for the first time in his professional career. He’s [9.0] to win the PGA Money List with Jordan Spieth [4.3], Justin Thomas [4.4], and Dustin Johnson [5.0] all ahead of him."
It's hardly surprising that the greats from different sports tend to make friends. They have a shared understanding of the pressures, but no rivalry to get in the way.
Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have always been big buddies, brought together by their Nike sponsorships and driving each other to chase Majors before Tiger's injury woes knocked him out of that particular race.
Rory McIlroy and Andy Murray have been another pair who have frequently turned up together, with Britain's top golfer often in the Royal Box at Wimbledon to cheer on our number one tennis star.
This is a massive season for the Northern Irishman. It's one which in his own words will decide if he can "turn a great career into one of the greatest".
Once the boy who looked like dominating the sport for years, he went through last year without a single tournament victory for the first time in his professional career. He's [9.0] to win the PGA Money List with Jordan Spieth [4.3], Justin Thomas [4.4], and Dustin Johnson [5.0] all ahead of him.
But as he tries to reassert himself among that company I just wonder if he's followed a bit of advice from Murray in how to prepare.
This time is slightly different as he manages injuries, but for years now the Scot has gone to Miami to do a tough pre-season. Huge fitness workouts on the beach and in the gym, building his muscles, stamina and core strength to prepare for the rigours of the season when it starts Down Under ahead of the Australian Open.
McIlroy, it seems, is doing something similar. He might not need quite the same strength and fitness levels, but he does have to prepare his body properly to prevent the niggling injuries that blighted 2017.
He's also aiming to get the love of the game back, keeping best friend Harry Diamond as his caddie to help him relax and laugh on the course like the Rory of old. It may be no coincidence that his top ten finishes last year all came thanks to brilliant final rounds when the pressure was off.
By the time he begins his 2018 schedule at the Abu Dhabi Masters on January 18th it will have been four months out of competitive golf.
So he's been going through four weeks of rehab and fitness work in Dubai to strengthen the hip that caused so many problems, before two weeks of intensive practice in America. Word leaking from his camp is that his core fitness is now perfect.
He plays a hectic eight events before arriving in Augusta for The Masters and another go at completing that elusive career Grand Slam, a schedule that is the busiest he's ever undertaken and a huge gamble.
He goes three tournaments in three weeks, a week off, then three in three again and just one more week off before heading down Magnolia Drive. The risk is he could be burned out by then, the upside that he could find his form and be in the perfect groove.
McIlroy seems to have learned from his last attempt to come back from injury when he spent hours on the practice ground too soon, and tweaked more muscles. This time he's taking the trouble to prepare properly and then do the technical work. Just the sort of thing Murray has always done.