'Mystique' of Augusta National puts spring back in McIlroy's step
AMERICAN golfing legend Bobby Jones definitely had players like Rory McIlroy in mind when, 78 years ago, he invited Alister MacKenzie to help him create the ultimate golfing challenge.
Every hole at Augusta National teases and tempts the gifted golfer, making them walk the tightest imaginable line between glory and humiliation.
So inspired is McIlroy by the prospect of playing the US Masters here this week, it's put the spring back in his step and dispersed the cloud which gathered over his recent performances in the US.
Unquestionably, Jones would be proud that playing his tournament and the golf course upon which it is contested could have such a salutary effect on one of the most talented young golfers of the 21st century.
"The Masters just has got a different feel," McIlroy explained. "Nobody knows what it's like until they get in the gates. The whole aura and mystique about it is very appealing to me."
It'll be several months before McIlroy (20) fully recovers from the bone stress injury which blighted the opening months of his season, but he's been assured by medics that he can swing at full power without risking further damage to his lower back.
After working in tireless fashion with coach Michael Bannon after Friday's missed cut in Houston, he insists: "I haven't struck the ball as well since the middle of last year."
The timing couldn't be better for McIlroy, relishing his return to Augusta after his performance on Masters Sunday last April, which saw him clinch a top-20 finish by playing the last 10 holes in six under.
Nowhere were McIlroy's credentials more searchingly examined than on the three-hole finishing stretch on the Friday last year. First he four-putted for a double-bogey five on 16 and then found himself deep in controversy after making a triple bogey seven out of the right greenside bunker at 18.
While TV pundits rushed into judgement, alleging McIlroy kicked the sand in frustration after failing with his first attempt to escape, a full investigation that evening by the tournament rules committee established that he'd merely been flattening the sand, as permitted by rule.
McIlroy would go on to birdie 16 and 17 (Nandina, 440-yard par 4) on Sunday before notching a comfortable par at the last.
"It's all about the drive there. Either it's 3-wood to take the bunkers out of play, though you'll then have a 6-iron into a tough green," he said. "If you're comfortable moving it left to right, you can challenge the right side. I'd take four pars there anytime at The Masters."