Tuesday 23 May 2017

Rory McIlroy warns Jordan Spieth it will not be easy to bury Masters demons

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth

James Corrigan

Rory McIlroy has warned Jordan Spieth that the American will have to bury his Augusta demons in public if he wants them not to monopolise his future Masters build-ups.

The Ulsterman was responding to Spieth’s commenting here on Monday that he cannot wait for this year’s Masters to be over because he is sick of people asking him about 12 months ago, when he blew a four-shot lead with a meltdown which was triggered by two balls in the water on the par-three 12th.

“No matter what happens at this year’s Masters, whether I can grab the jacket back or I miss the cut or I finish 30th, it will be nice having this Masters go by,” Spieth said. “The Masters lives on for a year. It brings a non-golf audience into golf. And it will be nice once this year’s finished, from my point of view, to be brutally honest with you.”

His negative thoughts will be a surprise to many, as Spieth has played in three Masters and holds the incredible record of two seconds and a first. But the ongoing inquest has plainly irked the 23-year-old.

“It would be best if I could reclaim the jacket,” Spieth said. “But I believe that I’ll be back up there sooner or later, with the success I’ve had and the comfort level I have there. Whether it happens this year or not, but it will just be nice [when it’s over] because that tournament, it’s a 365-day thing.”

Spieth believes there will be no ghosts to exorcise at the Georgia course, not even at that par-three 12th, when it all came crashing down, allowing England’s Danny Willett to win the green jacket. Spieth played Augusta in December and birdied the revered 155-yarder named Golden Bell on two occasions.

“I was vocally expressing that, saying to my playing partners ‘guys, we have some demons to get rid of here, I'd appreciate if y'all stood to the side of the tee box while I do my work here,’” Spieth said. “I was very nervous but I hit an eight-iron over the bunker to about 15 feet. I was pumped and then I hit my putt and it just about stopped short on the front lip and fell in for two. I gave like a big fist pump. I was walking around with my hands up, like ‘demon's gone.’

“And I went back the next day and hit a nine-iron and it almost went in, right on the lip to about this far. So, the two times I played the hole, I made birdie.”

“And we won in Colonial three starts later [than the Masters]. So as far as affecting me on course when I’m in a tournament, I think that answer is clear, it doesn’t do that. But as far as just having all the questions be done, I’m pretty sure they will be.”

McIlroy is not so sure, however, and speaks with painful experience regarding the length of people’s Masters memories. Six years on from the week in which he conceded his own four-shot advantage in the final round – with that unforgettable 80 – McIlroy is still seeking to change the conversation.

“It’s not as if it’s going to be the last year Jordan gets questions about it,” McIlroy said. “That might be the way he’s approaching it, the mentality of ‘I just can’t wait for this to be over so all the questions are.’ But if he doesn’t banish those demons or win this year, the questions will always still be there.

“I still get questioned about the back nine at Augusta in 2011. It’s just something you have to deal with. It’s something that happened. It’s not going to go away. It’s there and it always will be.

“I sympathise with him. The guy had a chance to win the Green Jacket and didn’t. But he can console himself by opening up his wardrobe and seeing one hanging there. It’s a little bit different to me in that respect. No matter what happens this year, those questions will still be there and linger a little bit.”

The WGC Match Play, which tees off here on Wednesday, is McIlroy’s last event before the season’s first major and after his fourth place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the world No 2 is one of the obvious favourites for a title he lifted two years ago.

The Ulsterman has been drawn in a group comprising Soren Kjeldsen, the Dane who he plays first, as well as the Argentine Emiliano Grillo and the big-hitting American Gary Woodland.

There are 16 groups in all, with the winners of each going through to the weekend knock-out stages. Spieth is grouped with two Japanese in Hideko Tanihara and Yuta Ikeda, as well as his US Ryder Cup team-mate Ryan Moore.

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