A good start is half the work for Rory McIlroy as he gears up for a ninth bid to become just the sixth player to win all four majors and complete the career grand slam at the Masters.
McIlroy can also get the monkey off his back and win one of golf’s big four titles for the first time in nine years – but to win the currently elusive Masters would open the door to golfing immortality.
Four consistent round at a major championship have been a rarity for McIlroy over the years and after overcoming his ‘Freaky Friday’s to claim two major gongs in 2014 it’s time for him to banish the ghost of ‘Tame Thursday’ at Augusta National this week.
While the 33-year-old managed to shake the burden of putting himself behind the 8-ball in three of the four majors, it’s the first round in the first major of the year that has proven a massive stumbling block.
McIlroy opened his account at last year’s US PGA Championship with a first round leading 65, while at the US Open he was second after an opening 67 and at St Andrews he was two shots behind Cameron Young after a Thursday 66.
Other rounds proved to be his downfall in the end, but McIlroy competed to win three summer major championships because he gave himself the foundation. Despite having six top-10s at the Masters, never has he truly had a chance to slip into a Green Jacket heading to Amen Corner on Sunday – although he has tried to manufacture outside opportunities, 2022 the case in point.
Slow starts have proven fatal for McIlroy at Augusta National opening with rounds of 73, 75, 76 and 73 in his last four Masters outings to leave himself with a mountain to climb only to do what has now become his trademark and ‘reverse into a top-10.’
The Holywood native trailed the first round lead by six strokes and then found himself ten shy of Scottie Scheffler at the halfway stage after another 73 following a treacherous run of bogey, double-bogey on holes 10 and 11.
McIlroy has also been prone to costly stretches like that but they have been brought about by the pressure of not getting off to a good start on Thursday.
The stats show that a good start is crucial.
Since 2005, only one player – Tiger Woods in 2005 and 2019 – has been outside the top-10 after the first round and gone on to win the Masters.
McIlroy opens his eighth campaign for an elusive Masters title in the penultimate group at 6.48pm Irish time meaning he faces a lengthy and anxious wait, at which time he could already be teeing off five or six shots off the early lead – 67, 65, 65, 66 and 66 have all been the leading scores after round one.
McIlroy was just three shots off the pace in 2018 after an opening 69 – the last time he broke par in the first round of the Masters and his lowest opening round since 2011.
The correlation? His two best and only chances to win the Masters came after good starts, where he was in the top-10.
This is not revolutionary writing, he knows this and admitted as much.
“Excluding the back nine on Sunday with some of the hole locations, I think it’s a very difficult course to chase on,” McIlroy said.
“You start to fire at pins and short-siding yourself and you’re missing in the wrong spots, it’s hard to make up a lot of ground.
“You know, once you get off to a good start, you can – you know, what’s the biggest thing here in Augusta? Greens in regulation, hitting greens. If you get off to a good start, it’s way easier to get into that mindset when you’ve been off to a fast start.
“Yeah, say you shoot a couple over that first day, then you start having to chase just to make the cut or try to get yourself back in the tournament, that’s when this golf course can really sort of step up and bite you. I think that’s part of the reason.”
Chasing at Augusta has not done Rory McIlroy any good. If he wants to compete for a place in golf’s most exclusive club, Thursday evening (Irish time) is crucial.
As the Twitter player trackers would say: It’s HUUUUUGEEEE LFGGGGGG
Tús maith leath na hoibre.
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