The pressure on both Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry couldn’t be more different this week and yet both are capable of wearing green come Sunday.
He’s only 29 years of age and yet speculation of whether or not Rory McIlroy will complete a career Grand Slam seems to loom over his head like an age-old question. He enters the frame this time around having achieved a level of consistency many believed he couldn’t, while his win at TPC Sawgrass means there’s no fear of him passing through the gates of Magnolia Lane beneath the media’s detection.
Lowry on the other hand could wander into the clubhouse draped in an Offaly jersey and few would bat an eyelid after his path to the Masters went right down to the wire at the Dell-Technologies Match Play. Ranked 50 in the world this week, Lowry remains a relative rookie in Masters terms at least, with the Clara golfer having made the cut just once in three attempts at Augusta to date.
Unlike McIlroy, Shane heads to Augusta with no form whatsoever and yet there’s every reason to believe he’ll go well for four rounds. It wasn’t his talent letting him down of late but an obsession with a Masters invite that plagued his thoughts and ultimately his playing. His patented high draw is tailormade for the right to left dog-legged fairways a player faces at Augusta while his 68 in 2016 proves he can return a score capable of contending for a green jacket.
Now a proud father and husband with a new bag-man in tow, much has changed for Shane Lowry since he last drove down Magnolia Lane, and maybe the maturity that’s arrived with his off-course stability will translate onto it to ensure his drive out of Augusta this time around is a much more fulfilling one.
The contrast for McIlroy couldn’t be greater with the enormous pressure on Rory from those outside his circle set to only be exceeded by that of which he puts on himself this week. Many men have entered the Butler Cabin to have the green jacket donned on their shoulders but only five of those have become Grand Slam champions. McIlroy aims to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods in the most elite club in golf having caved under the weight of expectation last year when going out in the final group alongside American Patrick Reed.
Yet the mindful McIlroy of this year looks a different beast. He’s preached patience to those doubting his closing ability after a string of near-misses and that willingness to endure was rewarded at TPC. Nobody doubts McIlroy’s got the game to win at Augusta; they question the six inches between his ears that have proved the stumbling block so far. But without wanting to tempt fate this time around, his attitude seems more assured than ever to handle the challenge this year. Let’s hope he feels the same.