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This will be the ninth year that Rory McIlroy heads to Augusta National in search of a victory that would give him the career Grand Slam. Of course, all who have followed his career know the struggles he’s had in trying to win the Masters and that elusive green jacket.

Last year was particularly frustrating as things seemed to be trending in the right direction, only for him to miss the 36-hole cut.

Going on 10 years without any major titles since he won the last of his four in 2014, McIlroy began his 2024 season in Dubai. He finished a shot behind Tommy Fleetwood at the Dubai Invitational, where he shot a final-round 67 but still lost because of a three-putt from two feet and a ball in the water at the 18th green. Fleetwood holed a 15-footer at the last for the win.

“I think first week back out, I think you’re going to expect some of those sloppy mistakes, and unfortunately for me, those mistakes came at the wrong time today,” said McIlroy, who opened the tournament with a 62 on Thursday. “But you know, I’ll reflect on it and learn from today, and there’s still a lot of good stuff in there. But just need to tidy up some of the edges, and if I do that, I feel good going into next week.”

McIlroy will defend his title this week at the Hero Dubai Classic. While there again was some criticism for him not starting the year in Hawaii at the Sentry on the PGA Tour, McIlroy has made a habit of beginning his new year in the United Arab Emirates. He lived in Dubai for four years at the start of his career. And after playing these two events on the DP World Tour, he’ll head back to the United States where he told Golf Digest he plans a robust schedule leading up to the Masters.

“The Masters is the Disneyland of golf,” McIlroy said. “You go there, put the Mickey Mouse ears on and get into what it is. And when you leave you snap out of it. My big thing about Augusta is just to go in there playing well. The weeks before are important just to get me feeling like I’m in good form.

“This year, in fact, I’m going to play more before the Masters. It will be my ninth or 10th event of the year. Previously, it’s been my sixth or seventh. I’ll hopefully be a bit sharper and know exactly where my game really is.”

Figuring out those other events is relatively simple. He will undoubtedly play the AT&T Pebble Beach and Genesis Invitational, both signature events on the PGA Tour. Same for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship. That gets his total up to six. Perhaps he plays Phoenix between Pebble Beach and Genesis. Maybe he adds the Cognizant Classic, near his Florida home and where he won in 2012. He’s also played the week prior to the Masters at the Valero Texas Open. That would be nine tournaments before the Masters.

“I’ve just about said all I have to say about the Masters,” he told Golf Digest. “I’d love to win it. If I don’t, I probably will look back and think I missed out on something. I did an interview a few years ago when the interviewer asked if I felt like I deserved a green jacket. I don’t deserve anything. The game has given me more than enough. I have to go out there and earn it.

“People can say the course suits my game all they want, I still have to go out there and play the golf. I’m on a pretty strong list of players who have won three of the four majors. But I’d like to be on the shorter list of those who have won all four.”

That list is comprised of just five players: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.