With his main pre-tournament press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon – immediately after Tiger Woods – McIlroy politely declined to talk to waiting reporters after playing a full practice round with amateur champion Bradley Neil at Augusta National.
However, Neil was happy to discuss his experience and McIlroy’s frame of mind as he attempts to win a first green jacket and become only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam.
“It was a bit like coming here for the first time, it exceeded all my expectations,” Neil said. “He’s a really nice guy and made me feel really comfortable.
“I think it just shows how strong he is mentally. His rise has been very quick so after what he has gone through and to see how calm he is about everything shows how strong he is mentally. It bodes well for the rest of the week. His game is great, he’s had a few weeks off and from what he’s been telling me he’s been working on his game hard.
“His game is looking very strong and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see him up there challenging on Sunday.
“He’s only six years older than me but if I was to even get to where he’s at in 15 years I’d be happy. The way he’s dealt with it at such a young age is what’s very impressive. He seems as if he has nothing to worry about.
“You can’t tell he’s under pressure. Whether he hides it or whether he just deals with it, you just would never be able to tell. You’d think he was in my situation, just here to soak up all the experience – you certainly wouldn’t think he’s the major contender this week by the way he deals with it and takes it in his stride.”
The practice round was arranged when the pair met at Augusta a few weeks ago and Neil revealed he again showed McIlroy the best way to play the par-five second hole.
“I holed out from about 90 yards and he couldn’t stop laughing because the day we met here I did the exact same thing and he was on the third tee,” Neil added. “He said ‘Just don’t bother going for the green, just lay up all the time’.
“That was obviously a nice thing to do and I got a nice cheer from the crowd. Rory always gets a crowd and the fact that I got to taste that was great. I doubt I’ll play in front of a crowd like that during the rest of the week. It’s going to be easier now.”
Winning the Amateur championship at Royal Portrush last year means Neil also has an invite to the US Open in June and the 19-year-old Scot admits he may turn professional before September’s Walker Cup.
“He (McIlroy) said to me there’s no rush,” Neil added. “He said my game is good enough to come out here and do well so there’s no rush and just wait until I feel comfortable.”
Asked what else he and McIlroy talked about, Neil added: “Well I’m 19 and he’s only a few years older so we were talking about girls and stuff like that.
“Obviously his life’s a bit quiet, strangely a lot quieter than mine, but it was just little things we talked about like football teams. Just little things to let the time pass.”