Trimmer McIlroy out to master Augusta
Rory McIlroy can indulge a familiar smile about his first 100 events as a tour professional, but it is only the 101st that matters to him today.
This tousle-haired prodigy waits restlessly at his third Masters to complete the transition from pretender to major contender. If it is any comfort, Gary Player claims to have a “feeling” that McIlroy will be garbed in green come Sunday evening, despite missing the cut last year.
“Rory is so talented, I’ve got a feeling about him,” said Player, three-time Masters champion. “He is ready to come through. I just love the way he plays golf. However, we don’t know how he will rise to the occasion if he comes down the line and he’s leading.”
Front-running has not exactly been McIlroy’s niche: at last summer’s British Open he followed a first-round 63 with an 80, while at the PGA Championship he floundered in the Sunday gusts that blew in across Whistling Straits.
The malady is tricky to identify, and McIlroy has taken a three-week break with his swing coach to find a remedy. He need not fret about his driving at Augusta, such is his natural capacity for firing 300-yard bombs at will.
McIlroy’s youthful impetuosity can achieve wondrous results, not least in a closing 62 to win at Quail Hollow last May, on a course of such difficulty that former U.S. Open winner Johnny Miller described it as the best round he had ever seen. But if his errant putting display at the business end of the PGA provides any clue, it is a streak to be curbed in the tense final reckoning at a major.
Butch Harmon chose this week to damn McIlroy with faint praise.
“Rory hits the ball from right to left, so that’s the good news,” said Harmon, indicating that McIlroy’s signature draw would prove an asset on several of Augusta’s holes. But as the coach to Phil Mickelson, a sorcerer with a wedge, Harmon said: “I’m not sure his short game is of the quality of some of the other players.”
McIlroy is of a mind to listen, so set does he seem on elevating his position from No. 7 in the world rankings. His split from longtime girlfriend Holly has heralded a fresh face in his life, and he has acquired a gym-rat routine to help shed fat.
Rejuvenated, he does not like being reminded of his last Masters.
“It wasn’t really a great time of year for me,” McIlroy said. “I can only remember chipping in on the 14th. That’s pretty much it. There wasn’t much else to talk about.
“Experience is crucial here. You could be the best putter in the world, but you’re not going to hole anything if you leave yourself on the wrong side of the hole all the time.”
Rory’s so talented, I’ve got a feeling about him Gary Player