Rory McIlroy appeared last month on the cover of Golf Digest as Michelangelo's David. McIlroy was shown this week on the upcoming cover of Men's Health as himself, fully toned. What he really is shooting for is to appear on the lead page of golf history, as an icon.
He is in position, heading into the Masters this week. Having already emerged as the game's big new celebrity -- no golfer ever graced the Men's Health cover before -- he can carve his place on golf's Mount Rushmore by winning a third consecutive major and becoming only the sixth to capture all four major championships in his career.
It is an achievement he envisioned long ago. This week, the BBC unearthed an interview from 1998, when he was 8, in which he said his goal was "to turn pro and win all the majors."
"I don't feel like it's any different. I've got a chance to go to Augusta and do something very few players in this game have done before, so that adds a little bit of spice to it but I don't feel any extra pressure," the 25-year-old said last month at his final pre-Masters tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational. "I feel the extra attention but no extra pressure going to Augusta this year."
McIlroy sounds prepared to hoist the burden of expectation that comes from being No. 1 in the world and the favorite every time he plays. A hot topic now, though, is whether he is hoisting too many weights.
The affable young man from Northern Ireland obviously is proud of the work he has done, evolving from a doughy baby-faced teen to a ripped athlete. People who follow golf closely point to Tiger Woods, McIlroy's role model, whose body and swing changed over time and who became decidedly less productive.
"When I see all these squats being done in the gym, it makes me nervous for his longevity," Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said of McIlroy. "There's an epidemic of injuries in the game right now, and I can't help but think that a lot of it has to do with just how rigorous guys are training in the gym."
Chamblee's colleague Peter Jacobsen referred to Sam Snead, who rode a slow, fluid swing to a long, successful career. "I don't think he lifted a weight in his life," Jacobsen said.
But golf has become a speed and power game. One of McIlroy's advantages is in his ability to drive the ball farther than his peers do. He believes the work he has done on his core has given him the strength and stamina to practice more. He says he has been careful to avoid pitfalls. "It's great to look good. But if you can't swing the way you need to, it doesn't help," he told PGA.com during a photo shoot in Manhattan this winter.
Skepticism does not faze the golfer who was criticized during a 2013 slump for having switched to Nike equipment. He came back as good as or better than ever, winning the 2014 British Open and PGA Championship. Those titles earned him a brighter spotlight, which does not worry him. He said that whenever Woods decides to play, "I could fly under the radar."