In this exclusive feature, Neil Tappin asks will Rory McIlroy win the 2017 US Masters - looking at the pros and cons facing the Northern Irishman ahead of this year's Augusta showdown
At the time of writing, Rory McIlroy was third favourite for the 2017 US Masters with odds of around 8-1. The Northern Irishman is looking to complete golf’s career grand slam by finally donning a green jacket and winning the one major that has thus far eluded him. But will 2017 finally be Rory’s year? We take a look at Rory McIlroy’s chances ahead of the season’s first major, the plus points and the minus points, as he bids to become the first British golfer to win all four majors.
The first part of the golf season presents players with something of a scheduling problem. Big events come thick and fast and knowing how to balance playing competitive golf to stay sharp without becoming tired is a perpetual problem. Rory McIlroy suffered a stress fracture to his rib during his first tournament of 2017, the South Africa Open. This forced him to take a 6-week break from the game. Frustrating as it was at the time, it might, ironically, leave him fresher than his main rivals come Augusta-time.
Still only 27 years of age, there is a strong argument to be made that Rory McIlroy is the best golfer of the current generation. But let’s not forget he hasn’t won a major since the USPGA of 2014. Since then the likes of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson have somewhat stolen the show. Rory McIlroy will be doing everything this year to put that right and as a Green Jacket is the only piece of the jigsaw missing, the motivation this year couldn’t be bigger.
If you were to design a golf course specifically for Rory McIlroy, it would look something like Augusta National. This golfing treasure rewards the very best ball strikers capable of controlling their flight to access any flag on the course. The quality of his ball striking will prevent him from facing too many of those typically unstoppable Augusta putts. His powerful draw and naturally high flight are the ingredients that time and again make Masters Champions.
Rory McIlroy lives his life under a microscope. Wherever he goes, whatever he does people are watching. This is true all the time but during the majors the attention amplifies. In some ways, Rory McIlroy will be pleased to be sharing the pre-tournament limelight at this year’s Masters with Jordan Spieth, whose 2016 meltdown will be one of the major talking points. Can Rory take the pressure heaped on his shoulders and turn it to his advantage?
The 2011 Masters was a formative experience for Rory McIlroy. He started the final round with the lead and despite playing relatively poorly on the front nine was still at the top of the leaderboard when he turned for home. What happened next brought tears to the Northern Irishman’s eyes. His long game dissolved and his score imploded on the greens. It was hard to watch. That he put things right at the very next major – the 2011 US Open – was hugely impressive but are there any Augusta demons still lingering. Bad memories can take a long time to fade. We shall find out…
If Rory has a weakness it lies with his flatstick. He is streaky. When he is on, he can putt the lights out but when he’s off he spurns makeable birdie opportunities at a worrying rate, undermining his imperious ball-striking. At Augusta the test on the greens is of course, severe. The combination of speed and slope requires a confident, self-assured approach. If Rory’s belief in his own stroke wavers, the putts will slip by and so will his chances of a first green jacket.