Thursday 21 September 2017

Rory still hottest prospect

YOUNG GUNS: Rickie Fowler (C) and Jason Day (R) watch Rory McIlroy line up a putt on the 18th green during second round play in this year's Masters.
YOUNG GUNS: Rickie Fowler (C) and Jason Day (R) watch Rory McIlroy line up a putt on the 18th green during second round play in this year's Masters.

Karl MacGinty

It came as no surprise to learn that Rory McIlroy slept for 11 hours on his overnight flight home from Kuala Lumpur. The 21-year-old had just completed what can only be described as a madcap, round-the-world mission from The Masters to the Malaysian Open.

That McIlroy somehow managed to maintain his challenge to Italy's remarkable young winner, Matteo Manassero, all the way up to the 72nd hole at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club offers glowing tribute to his mental and physical resilience.

He certainly repaid handsomely the whopping six-figure fees reputedly paid by the Malaysian sponsors to each of four headliners to perform in the 50th staging of their national open.

McIlroy was joined on the flight from America last Monday week by Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. World No 1 Martin Kaymer was able to travel more at his leisure after missing the cut at Augusta National for the third year in a row.

More than any other member of this famous quartet, McIlroy was on a hiding to nothing in Malaysia. After the crushing disappointment of his final-round 80 at The Masters, the Ulsterman had a lot more to overcome than jet lag.

Had he won, it would have been accepted almost as a formality for the brightest prospect in world golf, while defeat, in any guise, would have been cited as further evidence of McIlroy's problem with 'sealing the deal' on Sunday.

Gamely insisting that other people seemed to be a lot more upset about his Augusta implosion than himself, McIlroy shrugged off the late arrival of his golf clubs, his inability to play a practice round and the whispering of the world's critics.

He simply went out and played golf of the calibre which has lifted him up to his current ranking of No 7 on the world ladder and has established McIlroy as the most accomplished by far of the phenomenal crop of young players who have made it into his profession's elite top 50.

For sure, McIlroy needs to address a problem with his short game -- as in Augusta, his prospects of winning last weekend were undermined by poor putting.

As European Tour veteran and TV pundit Jamie Spence astutely pointed out on Sunday, McIlroy's tendency to miss short putts, usually to the left, can be resolved by practice and the employment of mental drills which will help maintain his confidence with the putter.

In the overall context of McIlroy's mind-blowing talent from tee to green, it's a relatively small problem. Yet it is one which must be overcome if he is to realise his full potential, especially at the Majors. Further denial will only stunt his development.

For all the disappointment he has endured over the past eight days, McIlroy still faces into a hard-earned fortnight's break before his title defence at Quail Hollow, heartened by the many positives from his performance at Augusta and in Kuala Lumpur.

Leading for three and a half rounds at The Masters was a remarkable feat for one so young. Not many could survive three holes in front at Augusta, never mind 63.

For example, Jason Day (23) the sublimely talented youngster who finished joint-second with fellow Aussie Adam Scott at Augusta, poked his nose in front of playing-companion McIlroy with a birdie at five on Saturday at The Masters, only to fall back with bogeys at six and seven. It's called pressure.

Of the five young cannibals in the world's top 50, McIlroy's Major championship credentials are indisputably the most impressive.

While Ryo Ishikawa has made winning a habit in his native Japan, he has not brought it to the international stage. If Manassero, 18 today, is blessed with rare precision, confidence and maturity for one so young, his lack of length ultimately will weigh against him.

Rarely has golf been so well endowed with young talent. Of the unprecedented 21 players aged less than 30 in the world's top 50, five are 23 or less -- and Rory McIlroy remains the most gifted of them all.

Irish Independent

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