Monday 16 January 2017

Impulsive Rory McIlroy needs his caddie to start saying 'no'

Joe Molloy

Published 13/04/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy, with caddie JP Fitzgerald, salutes the Augusta crowd after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of the Masters (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy, with caddie JP Fitzgerald, salutes the Augusta crowd after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of the Masters (Getty Images)

Once again that tired old cliché about things only starting on the back nine on Sunday at the Masters proved stupendously prescient.

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The heady combination of the course itself and the magnitude of the event so often skews the most unflappable of serial winners.

For three and a half days, Jordan Spieth ably made do with his "B-minus game, tee to green" and sat five shots clear at the turn on Sunday. The tournament had fizzled out. It was a bit boring. Birdies and bogeys for the likes of Danny Willett and Lee Westwood seemed irrelevant in the grand scheme of Spieth's procession.

What happened on the 12th takes some analysing. His initial tee shot was a miss he has battled for some time. Even last year, right throughout his incredible tilt at the calendar year Grand Slam, his play was pockmarked with the occasional wild hit out right.

He drafted in swing coach Cameron McCormick on Saturday night to help put things right. McCormick spoke to us the show last year and told us one of Spieth's great gifts has always been his ability to self-diagnose; be it on the driving range or even on the course, not an easy thing to do.

McCormick rarely if ever is with Spieth on the weekend of a tournament, but clearly he saw how bad things were. He called Spieth and offered to make the trip. It says something that Spieth said 'Yeah, come on down, can't hurt'.

That the initial tee-shot into the water happened, in hindsight, is not a surprise. Managing a shaky game for four days around Augusta takes a toll and the 12th is no friend of nervy ball striking.

What was so jaw dropping was the fat chop into the water a second time; it betrayed everything we thought we knew about Spieth's mental strength. His resilience in coming back with birdies at 13 and 15 was nothing short of miraculous - 99.9pc of players would have ended up shooting 80. It suggested that Spieth will recover from this and win multiple Majors.

The other big talking point centres around Rory McIlroy. He cited his own mental failings after his round on Sunday and talked about his inability to play his best golf when he needs it most, particularly at Augusta.

His course management is deeply suspect at the crucial moments and he needs to address it, firstly by properly acknowledging the problem. The decision, seemingly unopposed by JP Fitzgerald, to hook the ball from the trees at 11 on Saturday was indefensible.

Inevitably he found water. It was a rookie error from a four-time Major winner. Spieth, watching from the fairway, must have been bemused.

Great players like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Spieth all understand the value of a strong caddie who is not afraid to say 'no'.

Rory may very well prefer a caddie who will support all his decisions on the course and that's understandable, but there are times when it backfires spectacularly.

If he was a brilliant strategist like Jack Nicklaus this would be less of an issue.

Smarter

McIlroy spoke earlier this year about the need to make smarter decisions on the course, to take an extra breath and think about the smart, professional option. He now needs to accept that in the white heat of battle, he is not always liable to do that.

He actually does need somebody at those moments. Maybe Fitzgerald is saying the right things to him off camera. And Rory has won four Majors with him on the bag. But they need to analyse these moments as a pair.

The genesis of the rash decision on 11 was his failure, once again, to reach the required levels on the greens. He felt the need to push things.

If nothing else his Saturday round, where an erratic Spieth saved par after par, would have hammered home the point. He has tried to address it this year by changing his putting grip. He is clearly conscious of the issue.

It is a weakness he can only accommodate when his A-game is sparkling in all its glory. Developing a better B-game, his course management and improving his putting leaves him with lots of work to do ahead of the US Open.

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