Rory McIlroy smiles on Wednesday during tpractice for the Masters in...

Rory McIlroy smiles on Wednesday during tpractice for the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

Even though he was ranked No. 1 in the world before the PGA Tour halted play last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and now is No. 5, one spot ahead of Masters favorite Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy enters the first round on Thursday flying under the radar because of mediocre results since the tour resumed play in June.

And that’s just the way he likes it.

McIlroy has taken a backseat to DeChambeau, who won the U.S. Open in September and has been dominating the game with his prodigious driving distance off the tee. "I do prefer that," McIlroy said of his background status in his media conference on Tuesday. "I like it. I’ve always liked sort of doing my own thing and trying to stay as low-key as possible.

"It’s more subdued. It’s more relaxed. That’s the feel for me, anyway. Obviously, Bryson is going to be feeling a little different because the attention is on him and deservedly so, coming off a major win and basically disrupting the game of golf over the last few months. It’s a big story, and I’m as intrigued as everyone else to see how that unfolds."

McIlroy only needs a Masters title to complete the career Grand Slam, but he hasn’t won a major since capturing the 2014 British Open and PGA. He had the lead entering the final round of the 2011 Masters but blew up to an 80 on Sunday. He came back in the next major that year to win the U.S. Open.

"It’s just a matter of getting out of my own way and letting it happen," McIlroy said. "You can’t just rely on people saying you’re going to win one. Greg Norman never did. Ernie Else never did. There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. I have to go out and earn it and play good golf."

Elder will be honorary starter

Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will do the honors on Thursday morning as the honorary starters. But the Masters announced they will give way next year to Lee Elder, who broke the color barrier at Augusta National. Tiger Woods praised that decision.

"Lee was a pioneer," Woods said. "He was the one that broke the color barrier here and paved the way for players like myself to be able to play in this event. It’s ironic that he did it in 1975. I was born in 1975, and when I won in 1997, he was on the back of the green. To have him as our honorary starter, it’s awfully special and important in the history of our event, but for me personally, it’s probably even more special."

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