Going into the first Major of the season there are many people already crowning the world number one as champion, but here Nick Bonfield explains why Rory McIlroy won't win The Masters
Why Rory McIlroy won’t win The Masters
Before the final day’s play at the 2014 Open Championship, Rory McIlroy was asked what victory in golf’s most prestigious tournament would mean to him.
His response was wonderfully succinct: “A lot more scrutiny before the Masters.”
Since his supreme victory at Hoylake, many people have spoken about the career Grand Slam as something of an inevitability. And yes, if he reproduces the same form he showed between the BMW PGA in March and the USPGA in August, he’ll be very tough to beat.
But that’s a big if. Some seem to take his form last year as a guarantee that he’ll be on top of his game at Augusta. Golf, the most capricious sport in existence, doesn’t work like that.
He’s not played bad golf this season, far from it, but he’s nowhere near the level he was in July and August 2014. And let’s not forget McIlroy hasn’t yet learned the enviable Tiger-esque trait of winning without his best golf.
With so many top golfers coming into form ahead of The Masters – the likes of Bubba Watson, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth spring to mind – the Ulsterman will need to be on top of his game to secure a maiden Green Jacket.
He’s finished 9th and 11th in his last two PGA Tour starts, something that seemingly contradicts by somewhat glass-half-empty stance, but his iron play has been below par and he’s missed a number of makeable putts from between six and 12 feet.
He’ll need to address both those facets, with iron distance control key at Augusta and putting absolutely crucial to success in any major.
I know his driving is imperious, and his high, right-to-left ball flight is tailor-made for The Masters, but that doesn’t mean a great deal if it isn’t followed by precise approaches and a confident putting stroke, particularly on Augusta’s notoriously treacherous green complexes.
One stat in particular is quite alarming, as far as I’m concerned. On approaches from 100-125 yards, McIlroy averages more than 20 feet from the hole. On approaches from 125-150 yards, that figure is outside 30 feet. With his driving distance, this is the range most of his second shots will be struck from in Georgia.
I know he’ll be looking to destroy the par-5s, but they’re a short bunch at Augusta, with three easily in reach for everyone in the field. All the other main contenders – Day, Watson etcetera – are more than powerful enough to find all four in two shots.
My other area of concern pertains to mental factors. He’ll face so much additional scrutiny in his quest to win all four majors by the age of 25 that it’ll be much harder than normal to focus exclusively on the task at hand.
As we all know, success in golf comes when you stay in the moment, control your emotion and take one shot at a time. Rory will be – and already has been – bombarded with so many questions about winning at Augusta that such thoughts will inevitably be swimming around in his subconscious as he bids to win a fifth Major title.
Of course, he’s still the huge favourite, and rightly so. But, given the above, I think we’ll have to put the coronation on hold for at least one more year.