Can Rory McIlroy defy the "ghosts of Augusta" and win his first Masters this week? The soft conditions are in his favour, but Paul McGinley has a word of caution over the added pressure and expectations…
Rory McIlroy is the pre-tournament favourite ahead of the Masters this week and that’s not surprising given his start to the year, and he has a lot of things going in his favour this week.
Firstly, he’s in the form of his life coming in here, and it’s not just about the win at Sawgrass and his performances in general this year, just look at his stats for 2019.
I had a good look through all his stats as of last week, and they correlated very closely to his best ever run of form back in 2014, when he won two majors and a WGC in the space of a few weeks. So, he knows he’s playing as good as he’s ever played.
Secondly, when you look at each of his four major wins, they have all been on soft, long golf courses, and that includes Hoylake, when there were massive thunderstorms that week.
So Rory has always revelled in being able to take advantage of his massive, long and accurate driving when conditions are soft and the course is playing long. It makes the fairways that little bit wider, and he will be hitting eight or nine-irons into greens when others are going in with a six-iron.
History proves that iron play is a huge factor at Augusta National, and all the champions will have been riding high in the stats for strokes gained from approaches. So McIlroy’s length and accuracy in these conditions gives him a big advantage, particularly this week.
However, a word of warning for everybody jumping on the Rory bandwagon, and that includes myself! There is a reason why only five players in the history of golf have won all four major championships.
Rory McIlroy is again on the threshold of massive history here, which is great, but it also brings added pressure and expectation. That is the biggest challenge he faces this week, and it remains to be seen how he deals with it in terms of his mentality.
The ghosts of Augusta, and the ghosts of golf in general are all out there trying to trip him up.
This is why the likes of Brad Faxon can be a huge help for him, and his influence will be of extreme importance to Rory this week.
Faxon was one of the first clients of Dr Bob Rotella, widely regarded as the best sports psychologist out there. So Rory is getting a lot of Rotella input through Faxon, and that’s another reason why he is on the right path – something he alluded to in his press conference on Tuesday.
Having the right mindset to tackle Augusta National is absolutely crucial, and it was very wise of Rory to go down that route. We all need some help now and then, even Tiger Woods would stress the value of having a great team around you.
Rory has now got that support and it sets him up nicely for the next phase of his career as he approaches 30 years of age. Wouldn’t it be great to see him wearing a Green Jacket as he heads into the next chapter of his life?