Everybody has a Masters Tournament favorite – not necessarily the golfer you expect to win professional golf’s biggest event but the one you’d prefer to see wear the green jacket late on a Sunday afternoon in Augusta, GA.

With the tall pines and flashy azaleas beckoning next month, I’m going to give an unsolicited boost to Rory McIlroy. Not because he’s a former world No. 1. Not because the Masters is the only major he hasn’t won. Not because he’s been painfully close there. 

Because there is so much evidence that he’s a good guy.

The latest validation of McIlroy’s standing among the best people not only in his sport but also in the great span of all professional sports came last week at The Players, a tournament he’s won in the past but one in which he played miserably this year. He shot 154 through the first two rounds and missed the cut by a whopping 10 shots, the kind of play that isn’t expected from a player of his caliber.

Did McIlroy slink off to his courtesy car and escape to oblivion? Did he avoid media questions? Did he break his driver on the trunk of a palm tree or toss his golf bag or his caddy into a pond?

No, no and no. 

Instead of wallowing in misery or barking at little children, McIlroy agreed to post-round interviews and was very open in describing the troubles he’s trying to fight through. There was no hint of the “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” persona of too many athletes who see themselves as bigger than their sports and seem to be trying to earn doctorates in repellent and revolting behavior.

After his Friday round and before his departure, McIlroy was asked what has him most frustrated. Many athletes would have answered such a question with the grace of a logging truck. Instead McIlroy thought for almost 20 seconds before explaining with an answer that was intelligent, revealing and real.

“Probably the swing issues and where it all stems from … doing a little bit of speed training, getting sucked into that stuff,” he said. “Swing got flat, long and too rotational. Obviously, I added some speed and am hitting the ball longer, but what that did to my swing as a whole probably wasn’t a good thing, so I’m sort of fighting to get back out of that. That’s what I’m frustrated with.”

McIlroy admitted something that others might shy from addressing. Having seen the dynamic recent progress of Bryson DeChambeau and his jet-fuel swing, McIlroy said he put himself on a path to generate more speed.

“I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing, and I maybe just – to the detriment a little bit of my swing, I got there, but I just need to maybe rein it back in a little bit.”

Making a small swing change can be a very big thing for players at McIlroy’s level. He has about a month to get ready for the challenges Augusta holds. Chances are he’ll be ready, even within the speed limit he’s trying to set for himself.

Here’s one vote for him.

Mike Hembree

Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.