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McIlroy confident at Augusta

Dermot Gilleece talks to Rory McIlroy about his game

Posted Apr 11, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece


On his way to a stunning victory in the PGA Championship last August, Rory McIlroy talked animatedly about the strategic challenge which architect, Pete Dye, had set at Kiawah Island.  He marvelled at some of the optical illusions created by the celebrated designer, especially off the tee, where it was sometimes difficult for the player to convince himself about the location of certain fairway bunkers.

The extent to which McIlroy enjoyed these mind games was reflected in a record, eight-stroke victory at Kiawah.  So, if he could find the same enthusiasm for the strategic challenge of Augusta National, it was reasonable to assume he might one day have similar success in the so-called cathedral in the pines.

When I asked him this week if the comparison was valid, he replied: “Definitely.”  Then acknowledging the obvious difference in the terrain of the two venues he went on: “Okay, the greens at Kiawah are probably a little smaller, but in terms of slopes and of run-offs, and places to miss it, they’re similar in ways.”

Warming to the notion, the world number two ranked player continued: “Another similarity is that you have to err on the right side and give yourself a little margin for error here at Augusta, because you’ve basically got mini greens inside the main greens, and it’s all about trying to hit those areas.  And if you fail to do this, you’re looking for the best place to two-putt from or which spot offers you the best chance of getting up and down.”

Homing in on areas which hold particular fascination for him, McIlroy suggested that if a player happens to miss the left side of the fairway on the tight, tree-flanked seventh hole, the best place to aim your second shot is into the front bunker.  “Hit it over the back of that shallow green and all of a sudden, four is a very, very good score,” he observed with a wry smile.

Observations of this nature emphasise the strength of Augusta National as a Major venue.  When the combined skills of the great Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie worked more than 80 years ago on the sort of challenge they wished to deliver, the objective was that players would think their way around.  As a consequence, anybody who stands on the first tee and decides simply to whack the ball out there and hope for the best, is going to be doing well to break 80.

As McIlroy put it: “It’s a matter of knowing where to place your shots and how to extricate yourself at the least damage to your scorecard, if you happen to find yourself in trouble.”

Going into this week’s event, he carried the same equipment which brought him a second-place finish to Martin Laird in the Texas Open in San Antonio last Sunday.  After a painful few months, he claims to be totally at one with his new Nike clubs consisting of irons three to nine; driver, three-wood, five-wood; putter and three wedges, one of which he replaced two weeks ago because of worn grooves.

Meanwhile, in common with a somewhat ill-conceived playing schedule of late, he seems determined to figure things out for himself, despite fairly thin Masters experience.  “I’m not one to go and ask other players for advice,” he admitted. “Either way, I’m adopting a slightly different strategy off the tee this year in that I’ll be trying to hit the fat parts of the fairways.”  This reflects supreme confidence in his iron play, the sort of feel-good factor which saw him hit a three-iron shot of 245 yards onto the green at the closing, par-five 18th at San Antonio last Sunday.        

Then, as the ultimate vote of confidence in his equipment, he concluded: “Instead of trying to give yourself an eight or nine-iron into a green, you’re going to have just as good a chance with a six or seven-iron.”   Which would suggest that the Irishman is thinking very much Augusta’s way in this, his fifth Masters challenge.  And we remember that in the same circumstances in 1963, Jack Nicklaus gained the first of six triumphs here.

- Dermot Gilleece

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