Masters notebook: McIlroy 'turned corner' on new Nike equipment


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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy said he is "100 percent" comfortable with his new Nike equipment and feels he has "turned the corner" with his golf swing after impressive weekend finishes at Doral and the Texas Open.

And, after finishing second Sunday in San Antonio, McIlroy said he has that competitive feel again.

"Last week wasn't about the golf swing, it was just about getting competitive play," McIlroy said Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club. "I felt like I accomplished that and I played well, got myself in the mix in the tournament for the first time this year, which was nice."

Just in time, too. McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world, is back for his fifth appearance at the Masters, where he dominated the field for 63 holes in 2011 before a horrid back-nine implosion left him tied for 15th.

While McIlroy fought his swing and equipment changes early this season, Tiger Woods won three times and supplanted him as the No. 1 player in the world. While nearly everyone wants to create a rivalry between him and Woods, McIlroy doesn't see it that way.

"He's got 77 PGA Tour wins, I've got six," McIlroy said. "He's got 14 majors, I got two. If I saw myself a rival to Tiger, I wouldn't really be doing him much justice."

Popular spot

One of the more popular things for the gallery to do this week is go find the spot to the right of the 10th fairway where Bubba Watson hit his miraculous recovery shot to win the 2012 Masters in a playoff.

Watson hit a wedge from the trees that hooked 40 yards onto the green and settled 12 feet from the pin. He two-putted for par to beat Louis Oosthuizen for his first major title.

"On Sunday, me and my wife were playing a practice round and as I was coming down off of 18 tee, there was a group of three guys over there," Watson said. "I couldn't see who it was and I yelled at them, 'No, that's not the spot, it's a little over,' and they saw it was me. I come to find out it was Billy Casper and his son."

Watson was asked if other professional golfers would have attempted -- or even executed -- that shot, which might go down as the greatest recovery in the history of major championships.

"A lot of professional golfers can see [the shot], doing it is the hard part," Watson said. "Lefties would have the best chance. It's all about speed with the club head. I think a righty, it would be hard because you'd have to hit such a higher club, a 4- or 5-iron, to hit it that low because you're slicing the ball.

"I'm just obviously going to say, I'm the only one who can do it. I'm the only one who had a chance to do it."

Female presence

Augusta National made sure two of its most significant additions were on display this week, though not to everybody.

Condoleeza Rice, who along with banker Darla Moore are the first female members of the club, greeted early arrivals Monday to the club's new elaborate hospitality venue, Berckman's Place, a $50 million facility designed for members, sponsors and corporate guests.

According to Sports Business Journal, a badge to Berckman's Place for the week is $6,000 and is all inclusive for food and beverage. The facility, located behind the fifth green, has three restaurants and a merchandise shop with items not available at on-course locations. Outside, there are replicas of three greens at Augusta National -- Nos. 7, 14 and 16 -- that are available for badge holders to use.

Putters, balls and even caddies are provided.

Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, gained even more attention when she joined Phil Mickelson Sunday for his practice round.

"I think it's just fantastic," Woods said about adding female members. "And, for me, knowing Condoleeza over all these years, they couldn't have had a better person."

Unfair qualifier?

PGA Tour winner Charlie Beljan does not like the idea that he can't play in the Masters but a 14-year-old amateur can.

Thailand's Tianlang Guan, 14, is the youngest player to compete in a major tournament after gaining an invitation for winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur.

"I was having breakfast with my dad and my coach this morning and I was just like, '14 years old and playing in the Masters,' " McIlroy said. "I mean, I was playing in the European Young Masters in Augsburg, Germany, when I was 14. I think I played my first Masters when I was 19."

Tianlang has been at Augusta National the past three weeks, acclimating himself to the course and trying to find ways to navigate its length -- which, at 7,435 yards, is a lot for a 143-pound teen.

On Monday, Tianlang played 18 holes in the morning with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and nine holes in the afternoon with Woods. On Tuesday, he played a practice round with eight-time major champion Tom Watson, a two-time Masters winner.

"When I was 14, I was trying to play more tournaments and I was running track and cross country; you know, trying to get homework done," Woods said. "I couldn't imagine not just playing in a tour event, but the Masters."

Beljan, who didn't receive an automatic invitation to the Masters after winning at Disney in the fall, is upset at the qualification standards.

"Can't even get in with a pgatour win. But 14 year olds are welcome," Beljan tweeted.

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