By Phil Rice
Despite never winning the US Masters Rory McIlroy has one of the best records at Augusta of any of the major contenders for this week’s event. He has finished in the top ten for the past five years, earning $1.7m in the process.
The Holywood golfer has made no secret of the fact that this is the one tournament he wants to win above any other. Perhaps his desperation to complete a ‘full house’ of Majors has put added pressure on him and resulted in so many near misses.
Ironically it was the first major that he almost won, in 2011, as he held a three-shot lead playing the 10th hole in the final round.
The rest, of course, is history as a duck hook ended in someone’s back yard and he subsequently imploded and finished with an 80 and in 15th place.
The fact that he won the next major – the US Open seven weeks later by eight shots – didn’t heal the scars left by his earlier Masters experience. He believes that memory will not be erased until he finally dons a green jacket.
He approaches this year’s Masters in rude golfing health. His recent Players Championship victory testifies to his current excellent form.
The so-called ‘fifth Major’ brings together the strongest field of the year and to have beaten all of the world’s best has given him a real boost going into the Masters.
In the seven USPGA Tour events in which Rory has competed this year, he has finished in the top ten in all of them, and seen his world ranking rise from eighth to third.
In addition to his success at the Players he also came second in the WGC event in Mexico and his earnings in prize money during the first three months of 2019, exceed $4.7 million.
After his Players Championship win he reflected on his future, saying “I’ve started the second phase of my career. I’ve learned a lot in the last 10-11 years and feel I can make the next 10-11 years even better”.
He added: “It was a massive win on a course on which I’ve had mixed results. I had to show a lot of character at Sawgrass.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 8, 2019
“I’m just really proud of myself the way I played the last few holes. I kept telling myself on the way to the 17th tee, just make three more good swings, that’s all you need to do and this thing is yours.
“To step up and make those three good swings was very satisfying knowing that it’s in there when it needs to be.
“If I go to Augusta with a similar game and attitude then I think I’ve got a great chance.”
Everything McIlroy has planned for this season has been based around finally gaining success at Augusta. This clearly puts additional pressure on him, but he believes he has the maturity to overcome this added weight of expectancy.
“Since the start of this year I feel every week I’ve contended I’ve been more comfortable in contention,” he said.
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) April 8, 2019
“I have just kept going, doing what I’ve been doing all year, biding my time trying to hit good shot after good shot. Thankfully it all came together at The Players. So I know I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”
His victory at Sawgrass was arguably the most gutsy performance of his career and he has never been in better shape to finally get the monkey off his back at Augusta.
The mental fortitude he showed when winning the Players Championship suggests he is better equipped than ever to deal with all the peripheral distractions in the build-up and during the Masters.
Ireland’s other representative at this year’s event is Shane Lowry. He qualifies as one of the top 50 players in the World rankings. His early season win in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship boosted him to his current level.
While his results since then have been modest, his game is ideally suited to the demands of the Masters.
He is one of the best wedge players in the game and that is a pre-requisite on the slick greens at the Augusta course.
McIlroy is the bookmakers favourite and should the Northern Irishman succeed this weekend, it might just give him the confidence boost he requires to fulfil the undoubted potential he has to reign at the top of world golf for some time.