McIlroy focused on final leg of career grand slam at Masters
Wants to regain world No.1 spot from Jordan Spieth
Targets fifth major after major-less 2015
Aims to become "better person" off the course
Of all the trophies, trinkets and trouser-busting treasure on offer in golf in 2016, Rory McIlroy is in no doubt where his priorities lie.
The Northern Irishman is adamant he would pass up the chance of an Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 if he could win the Masters at Augusta.
Golf returns to the Games for the first time since 1904 in Rio de Janeiro later this year, but McIlroy can secure the final leg of a career grand slam with victory in golf’s first major in April.
If he did, McIlroy would become only the sixth player – alongside icons Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods – to win all four of golf’s major titles at some point in his career.
“I’d definitely wait four years for another chance at the Olympics if I could win the Masters this year,” the 26-year-old told CNN.
No player in the modern era – since the Masters began in 1934 – has won all four majors in the same calendar year, although Woods held all four at the same time when he won the U.S. Open, the British Open and the U.S. PGA Championship in 2000 followed by the 2001 Masters.
McIlroy went to Augusta last year needing just the Masters to complete the set but was foiled when Jordan Spieth made his stunning breakthrough.
In an up-and-down season, McIlroy ended 2015 without a major title after missing the British Open with an ankle injury from a soccer accident.
Spieth, meanwhile, landed back-to-back majors when he added the U.S. Open to his green jacket and went on to end the year as world No.1.
McIlroy, who is one of only three players alongside Woods and Nicklaus to win four modern majors before the age of 26, revealed ahead of last year’s season opener in Abu Dhabi he had written down his season goals on the back of an airline boarding pass and kept them in his wallet.
This time around he says they are at the forefront of his mind.
“I don’t think I feel I need to write them down because they’re always in my head,” said McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open, the 2014 British Open and the U.S. PGA in 2012 and 2014.
“After not winning a major last year I want to try and get back on track and try and win another one of those.
“And with the Ryder Cup coming up and the Olympics and everything else, it’s a big year,” added McIlroy, referring to golf’s greatest team event, where Europe takes on the United States over three days.
The biennial Ryder Cup alternates between venues in Europe and the United States, with Hazeltine, Minnesota hosting this year and Paris taking over in 2018.
Spieth’s ascendancy to the position of the world’s top golfer in the rankings is also gnawing away at McIlroy.
“I dropped out of the No.1 position in the world as well and I’d love to get back there,” he said. “So there are a lot of objectives this year.”
Having got engaged to girlfriend Erica Stoll in December, McIlroy is also keen to accomplish some off-course goals.
“Even just trying to become a better person in everyday life, you know,” he added. “They’re the goals that are most important to me. If I can achieve those goals it makes achieving those bigger goals much more achievable.”
Spieth’s surge and the 2015 form of Australian Jason Day have pushed McIlroy back to third in the world and sparked a media frenzy over a new “Big Three” to emulate the legendary rivalry of Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer.
McIlroy, however, is keen to downplay the comparison.
“Honestly, I think it’s overdone a little bit by the media,” said McIlroy, who is the defending champion and two-time winner of this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“We all want to beat each other regardless of whether we’re one, two or three in the world. But it’s good motivation, and hopefully this year I’m on the right path to do that.”
The season has been condensed to accommodate the Olympics in August, but McIlroy still hopes to find time to watch Northern Ireland make its debut in soccer’s European Championship from 10 June to 10 July.
In the meantime, he will keep a watchful eye on the fortunes of his beloved Manchester United and under-pressure coach Louis van Gaal.
“I’m very back and forth,” said McIlroy. “There are weeks where I think it’s OK and there are weeks when I don’t think it’s OK.
“It’s a really hard profession to be in. He’s under a lot of pressure but I think the team has been improving, results have been improving. Hopefully things are heading in the right direction.”