Friday 26 May 2017

McIlroy targets Masters as he sparkles in 'Grand Slam'

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY can't wait to get his hands on one item in Charl Schwartzel's wardrobe -- the Green Jacket worn by reigning US Masters champions.

McIlroy is in Bermuda this week with Schwartzel and this year's two other Major-winners in 2011, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley, for the PGA of America's prestigious Grand Slam Championship.

The Co Down youngster gave spectators at Port Royal a hint of the scintillating golf which underpinned last June's stunning US Open victory with yesterday's first-round 67 at this $1.3m (€950,000) event.

Entering today's final 18 holes, McIlroy was tied for the lead on four-under with US PGA champion Keegan Bradley and within reach of becoming Europe's first winner of the PGA Grand Slam since Ian Woosnam in 1991.

Golfers sometimes have difficulty setting new goals after winning their first Major title, but McIlroy's focus has been kept sharp by last April's stunning final-round meltdown at Augusta, where he led by four strokes after 54 holes then posted a shocking 80 on Sunday.

Asked how he planned to follow up on this summer's success at Congressional, McIlroy replied: "Hopefully, with another Major next year. I had a great chance to win the Masters this year and didn't quite grab it.

"Charl played some great golf to shoot 66 and birdie the final four holes to win it, but I feel I've got some unfinished business there.

"So I'll try my best to win that next year," added the 22-year-old, delighted to be in Bermuda with his fellow Ulsterman, friend and mentor Clarke, holder of the Claret Jug following his British Open win at Royal St George's.

"I've known Rory since he was this high," said Clarke, adding with a grin: "He's not that much higher now. His talent was there to see from a very, very early age.

"Rory was part of my foundation. To think I was spending time with him then, trying to give him a few tips, coach him a little bit and now we are playing against each other this week in the Grand Slam Championship -- it's an incredible thing."

The master trailed his former 'pupil' by 10 strokes yesterday as Clarke opened with a 77, leaving him three shy of third-placed Schwartzel's 74, after both he and the South African stumbled to a treble-bogey six at the 235-yard 16th.

Of proud Boston-Irish stock, perhaps it's unsurprising that Bradley would sparkle in this mid-Atlantic tournament. After a bogey at one, he sensationally landed eagle threes at the second and seventh and birdies at three, six and nine as he completed the front nine in six-under.

Bradley was four ahead of Schwartzel and McIlroy at that point.

However, the American dropped a couple of shots on the back nine, allowing the Northern Irishman draw level. Schwartzel, meanwhile, dropped six shots on the final seven holes as he came home in 41.

•Yesterday's US PGA Tour Q-School First Stage scoreboard in Factfile.



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