Vancouver Sun

McIlroy has major gap on resumé

Former No. 1 knows he can win at Augusta — if he figures out the greens

- CAM COLE ccole@postmedia.com Twitter.com/rcamcole

Let’s just begin by saying that in a perfect world, the golfers from Northern Ireland would do all the interviews. They’d set Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy up behind the microphone­s, and the planet would be a happier place.

Not surprising­ly, McIlroy stole the show on Interview Marathon Day at the Masters, totally disarming a roomful of inquisitor­s Tuesday who might otherwise have been tempted to paint a portrait of a former world No. 1 haunted by erratic play, by his failure to win here, by his balky putter, by his winless season, by his advancing age …

Well, maybe not that. He’s still only 26. The former child prodigy is a full-grown, muscular man now, but he’s still got time to complete the career Grand Slam, though it might be a good idea not to let too many more years pass before he nails down the last leg.

That would be this one, on an Augusta National course that on the surface — if not the putting surfaces — would seem a perfect fit for his game.

“This is one I wish I caught earlier I guess,” McIlroy admitted. “I had a chance.”

That he did. After leading for three days, he teed it up for 2011’s final round with a four-shot lead before a shocking collapse beginning with a triple-bogey, doubleboge­y start to the back nine. It was a scarring event for a 21-yearold. He finished 10 strokes behind Charl Schwartzel, in a tie for 15th. McIlroy tied for fourth a year ago, his best finish here, but with Jordan Spieth shooting the lights out, no one else was ever really in contention.

“I’ve got a great game for here,” he said. “I hit it high. I can land the ball soft. I’ve got decent touch around the greens. The only thing that’s probably held me back, in my career and here, is putting. I just haven’t quite been able to get myself over the hurdle.”

McIlroy never ducks a question, is painfully honest at times, and readily acknowledg­es the pressure that comes with his reputation as the most gifted player in the game. Hence this soliloquy on Tuesday:

“I don’t know if you can differenti­ate bad pressure and good pressure. It’s pressure, at the end of the day. Someone once told me pressure’s for tires,” he said with a grin. “Look, I get this course is well suited for me. I know that. I don’t need anyone to tell me that. So it should make me more comfortabl­e, knowing that I can go out and … let my game just flow and express itself. And if I can do that around this golf course, I feel like I can have a week like I’ve had in majors before, and win. I feel like I’ve got everything I need to become a Masters champion. But I think every year that passes that I don’t, it will become increasing­ly more difficult. So there’s no time like the present to get it done.”

Wanting a thing too much is very real in golf. It consumed Greg Norman, here above all other places. It has probably kept Henrik Stenson from winning a major.

And yes, McIlroy wants this. But equally, he wants to show the world that the incredible runs of Jordan Spieth last summer, and Jason Day last fall and winter and this spring, do not mean his own time as a dominant force has come and gone.

He’s still won two more majors than Spieth, 22, and three more than Day, who’s 28.

“I’d be lying if I said those guys having success doesn’t motivate me. Of course it does. I don’t want to be left behind. I want to be a part of that conversati­on. I’m clinging on at the minute,” McIlroy said, drawing a big laugh.

He has purposeful­ly laid off over-preparing and overthinki­ng, and won’t play the Par-3 contest, in the buildup to Thursday’s opening round, when he’ll be the very last man off the tee.

“Yeah, it becomes a long enough day,” he said. “On Thursday morning, you’re really just wanting to get out and play. But I have many different ways to pass my time. We are working on another jigsaw puzzle and we brought Monopoly to the house that we’re renting, so there’s a lot of really fun stuff going on.”

He has enough ego to believe he will one day join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods (three times each), Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as the only men to have completed the career Grand Slam. As to whether that’s motivation or pressure, he said: “Tell you at the end of the week, I guess. I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve felt the pressure of it, really, because I didn’t have a real chance to win the golf tournament last year.

“So if on Sunday I find myself in the position where I have a realistic chance to do that, ask me the same question. Hopefully,” he said, pointing at the green jacket worn by the interview’s moderator, John Carr, “when I’m sitting in one of those.”

I’ve got decent touch around the greens. The only thing that’s probably held me back, in my career and here, is putting. RORY MCILROY

AUGUSTA, GA. On his worst day as a touring golf profession­al — and there have been too many of them in recent years to pick just one — Mike Weir has never given up.

Later, much later, he might admit there was that one time he knew he had no chance, like last year when he was dealing with the fallout from a divorce, but you’d never get that out of him on the day of the tournament.

So rewind the tape from every Masters since 2003, when the bantamweig­ht from Sarnia, Ont., sent a jolt through Canada, defying long odds to win the green jacket on a notorious sluggers’ course.

“I came here to play well. My game feels good,” Weir said Monday, as if daring reporters to challenge his sanity.

“As bad as I’ve been scoring, I know I’m not that far off.”

For the record, this is how bad it’s been: he’s played four PGA Tour events this season and two in Europe, and missed the cut in all six, averaging 76 strokes per round.

His opening round in Dubai, he shot 80 … with 23 putts.

He is 45, nearly 46, and isn’t kidding himself that he has a chance to win this week, but he hasn’t conceded. He’ll play Thursday and Friday with U.S. mid-amateur champion Sammy Schmitz and Aussie Cameron Smith.

Weir — after going through a series of other teachers and ideas — is working with famed coach David Leadbetter now, trying to find a semblance of the swing he had during his best years when he was coached by a Leadbetter disciple, Mike Wilson.

Only back then, he didn’t have a right elbow he couldn’t straighten, a problem he has faced since an operation in 2011 left him, for golfing purposes, seriously handicappe­d.

If all else fails, as it very well might this week, at least Weir will be around to provide analysis on TSN/CTV’s Masters reports with James Duthie and Bob Weeks. It’s Weir’s 16th Masters, after all: he does know Augusta National like the back of his hand. He’d much prefer to be playing on the week- end, but realistica­lly, the chances are slim.

“Oh, I get down,” he said Monday, in answer to a question about his endless optimism.

“The game’s frustratin­g. I want to play well, even with my buddies. This struggle I’m going through is not just tournament golf. Part of this for me is I want to enjoy golf the rest of my life. It’s been so great to me, and I love it.

“I’ve always enjoyed the grind, even when things aren’t good, I love digging it out of the dirt, working at it. That’s part of my makeup. When I was a Canadian Tour player and back then (he heard), ‘Oh, you’ll never make it, you hit it short and blah, blah, blah’ … well, I found a way to do it, and I still believe I’ll find a way to do it.”

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 ?? ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES ?? Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Jamie Donaldson of Wales lock arms during a practice round before the start of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, Monday. McIlroy will play in the last group of the opening round Thursday.
ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Jamie Donaldson of Wales lock arms during a practice round before the start of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, Monday. McIlroy will play in the last group of the opening round Thursday.
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 ?? CHRIS CARLSON/AP PHOTO ?? Mike Weir gets advice from coach David Leadbetter during a Masters practice round at Augusta National, Monday.
CHRIS CARLSON/AP PHOTO Mike Weir gets advice from coach David Leadbetter during a Masters practice round at Augusta National, Monday.

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