Rory lacks know-how to master Augusta
For all his talent, McIlroy doesn’t have ‘the Knowledge’ to navigate way to Green Jacket
Published 08/04/2013 | 07:23
RORY McILROY has enough fire and brimstone in his game to scorch the azaleas but when it comes to winning this week's Masters, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson hold an insurmountable advantage over the gifted youngster.
Let's call it 'the Knowledge' – with seven victories and 15 top-five finishes between them at the Masters, few know their way around Augusta National quite like Tiger or Phil.
Today we expose the gulf between these two seasoned Augusta veterans and McIlroy by charting and comparing their hole-by-hole performance at the Masters since the Ulsterman first stepped into golf's most beautiful and beguiling arena in 2009.
In those four years, Mickelson donned the Green Jacket for a fourth time and Woods become embroiled in a scandal which rocked his personal life, wrecked his marriage and, along with a series of injuries, put into stasis his pursuit of the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
Still, Tiger came back from nearly five months of self-imposed exile to register a fourth-place finish behind Mickelson at the 2010 Masters, a phenomenal comeback which heavily underscored the value of experience at Augusta.
Mickelson's average score for the 16 rounds he has played at the Masters since 2009 is a stunning 68.31 strokes, more than two better than the career-average 70.97 he has established in 20 appearances on this hallowed ground.
Tiger's figure for the same period is 70.51 strokes, lower than the 70.87 he has averaged in 19 consecutive Masters, currently the all-time career record for the season's first Major.
By comparison, McIlroy has played his 14 rounds to date (he missed the halfway cut in 2010) in 72.43, which was a reflection of traumatic times the 23-year-old has endured at the Masters, and not his ability.
Augusta National was crafted by Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie to bring out the best in uncommonly talented golfers like McIlroy but it also cruelly teased and cajoled him too, at times almost to breaking point.
In his first Masters, for example, McIlroy truculently kicked sand in the face of convention at 18 on Friday after leaving his ball in a greenside bunker on the way to a triple-bogey seven.
Cleared to play that weekend by a committee of inquiry, he lit up the tournament with six birdies in his final 10 holes on Sunday, a sizzling stretch which bore rich promise for the future.
McIlroy looked to the manor born at Augusta in 2011 as he romped four strokes clear through 54 holes.
Yet he endured the cruellest meltdown that final day, a nervy bogey at the first hole the harbinger for the nightmare to come.
Unlucky when his tee shot at 10 cannoned off a tree and landed between two cabins, a rattled McIlroy ran up a seven at that hole, followed by a bogey at 11; then a four-putt double-bogey at 12. When he pulled his tee shot into the creek at 13, he hung his head in the crook of his arm. Amen indeed.
Still, McIlroy showed immense character by winning the US Open 70 days later, so the world eagerly awaited his return to Augusta last April.
Sadly, his preparations for that event were inadequate (though nowhere near as haphazard as this), so McIlroy's game deserted him at the weekend. Not-so-sweet surrender was declared after he played his first eight holes on Saturday morning in six-over par.
All the baggage McIlroy has accumulated at Augusta is reflected in his hole scores, which are far removed from what one normally would expect of a player of his stature.
It is no surprise when Woods and Mickelson outscore him on 12 holes, but McIlroy also is beaten by the rest of the field on nine of them.
In fairness, he eclipses the two 'Grand Masters' on the fourth, ninth, 11th, 16th and 17th – all of them testing holes.
Yet Tiger and Phil are in a different league when it came to Augusta's four long holes. Mickelson is a cumulative 44-under for the par-fives since 2009 and Woods 37-under, while McIlroy completed them in a paltry 14-under.
This chasm cannot remotely be explained by the two fewer rounds he played. Instead, it reflects how intimate Woods and Mickelson are with the subtleties of Augusta National.
"I've spent half my life playing this tournament," Tiger explained. "It's about understanding how to play this course and (especially) where to miss it."
Mickelson, meanwhile, neatly appraised the advantage of experience on nuanced greens by saying: "It's easier to remember the breaks than it is to see them."
Talent like McIlroy's may be precious but, around Augusta, experience is priceless.