Former Ryder Cup winning Captain, Paul McGinley believes Rory McIlroy would be a surprise winner this week at Augusta National as the 31-year old goes in search of Grand Slam stardom.
As far as sub-plots go for this year’s Masters, few will carry more intrigue than McIlroy’s latest attempt to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods in the most exclusive club in golf but given his form since golf’s restart this summer, McGinley sees other players packing more of a punch this week at the Masters.
“I don’t fancy him, I have to say,” McGinley said. “I think he would be a surprise winner if he were to win. He showed no form post lockdown of any significance. All his categories have massively dropped off, not just his iron play. He was third in iron play going into the lockdown, strokes gained approach, and since lockdown to now he is 58th in that category of all the guys who have played on the PGA Tour.
“So, strokes gained approach is the massive correlation statistically that you look for around Augusta. They have only been keeping statistics for five years. Now they have had broad statistics, the number of greens, the number of putts, but the real statistics, the ones where they have really got it down to size of putts on greens and yards, in those five years strokes gained approach, which is basically iron play, the winner of that category has also won the Masters three of the five years.”
“The thing that’s dropped off in Rory’s statistics since the lockdown has been his iron play and that’s what makes me worried and that’s why I would be surprised if he really raised a gallop this week on top of the fact there is a massive weight of history on his shoulders. In the last two or three years he has struggled with that, everyone struggles with that, getting over the line to be the sixth player in history. Mickelson, Jordan Spieth has struggled. You talk about motivation and surely that’s going to be a massive motivation for Rory.”
McGinley was responding to a question around this week’s unique environment around Augusta National where no patrons present will mean none of the roars we’ve grown accustomed to rustling through the pines as players stake their claim to the famous Green Jacket. Four time Major winner McIlroy had spoken in the past about his struggles with the lack of crowds, how it impacts his concentration levels and therefore his scoring but given all that’s on the line this week, with the millions watching at home and the possibility of history in the making, none of those excuses will wash for McGinley who hopes McIlroy will be self-driven enough not to rely on any further motivation.
“Look, I can’t speak for Rory in that mind,” McGinley added. “It’s not about the crowds this week for Rory. If you want the crowds to motivate you and get over the line in major championships, become the sixth player in history to win a Grand Slam, that’s not where you need to be. Where Rory has got so far is down to self-motivation. It’s not someone else driving him. It comes internally. All the great champions in the game have got an energy inside them, that’s pushing them forward. It’s not external, Yes, we all like to play in front of crowds. To some extent, we’re all showmen.
“And what’s ticking inside Rory is going to be the key. In terms of the golf course this week, it should suit Rory. He is one of the biggest hitters in the game, he drives the ball fabulously well and that means he is going to have a lot of shorter irons where other guys are playing mid-irons. The Par 5s are going to be comfortably on in two for him, we are not going to have a lot of wind and really difficult conditions. Rory struggles when conditions are difficult, whether that be wind, whether that be rain.
“It sounds like if the rain does come this week, it will be thunderstorms and play will be stopped. In general, you would think this is lining up nicely for Rory, and the other thing that’s going to work in his favour is he has been under the radar, his form has been so poor that everybody is talking about Rahm, everybody is talking about Bryson, in particular, and to a large extent, Rory is under the radar compared to what he would normally be.”