Monday 21 October 2019

Paul Kimmage: 'And that was it right there - the Masters was done on that hole'

Rory McIlroy almost makes a hole in one on the 16th during the fist round of the Masters. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Rory McIlroy almost makes a hole in one on the 16th during the fist round of the Masters. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

"Sure, it's a great experience. The international players had their dinner on Monday night which was very enjoyable." Then he made a very telling comment. "I don't believe, however, you can really appreciate what Augusta is all about until you win here.

Playing is fine, but it's the winning of the Masters that makes it special. It's the wearing of the Green Jacket that makes it special. It's the wearing of the Green Jacket, the changing in the champions'  locker-room, and attending the champions' dinner which is what the Masters is all about."

- Ronan Rafferty reflects on his second (and final) appearance at the 1991 Masters with Dermot Gilleece

Monday morning at Augusta National. Sandy Lyle is standing on the practice green to the left of the first tee. He changes in the champions' locker room. He attends the champions' dinner. He has made more Masters appearances (35) than any player in the tournament; 32 years ago he won the Open at Royal St George's. So there are few better qualified to answer the question: Green Jacket or Claret Jug?

Graeme McDowell: Jaysus!

Pádraig Harrington: I think you could argue, that while the Open has more tradition and is more 'open', the Masters is the toughest one to win. It asks the ultimate questions coming down the stretch. Oh! You want me to choose?

Shane Lowry: I'd take both.

Graeme McDowell: It's a toss-up.

Paul McGinley: The Open is our home Major but there's something different, something elevated, about the Masters.

Colin Byrne: The Claret Jug - it's links, real golf. The Masters is Disneyland.

Dave McNeilly: The Claret Jug - it's older.

Ronan Flood: I love the Open but the Masters is just special. It would be the one I would most like to caddie for the winner.

Dermot Gilleece: The Claret Jug, because of its history and the overall variety of the challenge.

JP Fitzgerald: The Open would be my number one.

Roddy Carr: The Claret Jug.

Pádraig Harrington: The Claret Jug is still the biggest trophy in golf, but I think the Masters has stolen the glory when it comes to the actual prize. The Green Jacket is iconic because it can be taken away and worn. When you win at Augusta you're in the champions' club and change in a different locker-room. I've never been in there.

Dermot Byrne: I find it hard to choose, but the Open at St Andrews.

Shane Lowry: I'd love to be the first Irish person to win the Masters.

Sandy Lyle: The Masters will never overtake the Open in terms of history and tradition but you get more bang for your buck with the Green Jacket. I've been to Asia and around the world and if you tell people you've won the Open it often doesn't register. Tell them you've won the Masters and its "Ahh! Greeen Jack-et!"

1 Cruel beauty

The Masters Tournament's new Press Building opened to rave reviews Sunday. Constructed in less than a year, the building offers state-of-the-art technology and space for the media covering this year's event. The building is a far cry from the tournament's early days when the press used the wraparound balcony at the clubhouse as its headquarters. That gave way to a tent with flaps in the 1940s, then the Quonset hut was erected in the 1950s.

The Augusta Chronicle April 3, 2017

Larry Dorman, an award-winning journalist with The New York Times is staring at a portrait of Cary Middlecoff, the 1955 Masters champion, on the first floor of Augusta National's new media centre. "Those were the days when you dressed to go to work," he smiles. Middlecoff is balancing a cigarette imperiously between fingers and holding court to reporters in the old Quonset hut.

Most of the reporters are wearing sports jackets; several are smoking; five are tapping on typewriters at the back of the hut… exactly how Dermot Gilleece remembers it during his first visit to the tournament in 1989.

Dermot Gilleece: That was the last Masters in the old (Quonset) hut. There was certainly nothing flash about it. In fact it was as basic as it comes and we seemed to be all huddled in a corner. But the thing I remember most was the noise and rattle of typewriters and the pall of smoke under a corrugated roof. And I made a contribution to both as I filed my first report: "It's not easy to make an impression at Augusta National, unless you can claim a blood relationship to Bobby Jones or you happen to be among the wealthiest or politically powerful men in the US. All of which made it a rather special experience for me to witness the buzz of excitement around the club-house yesterday as Severiano Ballesteros strode, almost regally, through one of the most heavily secured portals of world golf."

Dermot Gilleece: Seve rarely disappointed at Augusta in those days and finished fifth - two shots shy of the play-off between (Nick) Faldo and (Scott) Hoch. Ben Crenshaw tied with (Greg) Norman for third and was brought into the media hut as the play-off was underway. It was a dark, wet, evening at 7.0 - midnight back in Dublin. I was under serious pressure with my deadline and watched it on a TV in the corner.

On the 10th - the first play-off hole - Faldo did well to make par but Hoch had a 30-inch putt for birdie to win the Masters. He was fiddling around and walking back and forward over this putt and I heard this voice behind me shouting: "Jesus! Hit it!" I turned around and it was Crenshaw, who straight away recognised what was going on. He could see that Hoch's body language was all wrong.

Nick Faldo: Even when I hit my second shot into the bunker at the 10th, I still felt I was destined to win. That feeling remained with me as Scott stood over a two-foot putt for the title. It wasn't an easy one insofar as it was downhill with a right to left break. I began to suspect that he might be in trouble when he went around the hole to have a look at it the second time.
Scott Hoch: Well, I'm glad I don't carry a gun with me.

Dermot Gilleece: It was reminiscent of the terrible miss by Doug Sanders at St Andrews in the Open of 1970, his nervous hands steered the ball disastrously offline. And my first sense of the cruel beauty of Augusta, and what it could inflict on people.

Pádraig Harrington: The great thing about Augusta is that you go back to the same course every year. You remember all the good shots, and all the bad ones. So you carry everyone else's baggage. It's not just 'Oh, I remember hitting this shot here'. You remember all of the bad shots everybody has hit here.

JP Fitzgerald: Scott Hoch.

Jude O'Reilly: Greg Norman.

Colin Byrne: (Jordan) Spieth.

Ronan Flood: Norman.

Dermot Byrne: Rory.

Dave McNeilly: Ed Snead bogeying the last three (holes) in 1979.

Pádraig Harrington: Seve dunking it in the water on 15 (in 1986).

Dermot Gilleece: The capacity of the back nine at Augusta to cripple you mentally is absolutely huge.

Graeme McDowell: I remember my first round there in 2005. There was a big storm that morning and they went with a two-tee start in the afternoon, and I teed off on the 10th for my first hole ever at the Masters. I hit this really good drive around the corner and walked down there and thought, 'Holy shit! Really?' I had about 218 yards to that front-right pin off this hanging lie on the down slope with a three-iron in my hand. I thought, 'Wow! It doesn't get any more difficult than that.' In terms of difficulty, it was up several notches from anything I had ever experienced.

Jude O'Reilly: Augusta tests the nerves and focus more than anywhere else. Anything over six inches is a pressure putt, or a pressure shot, and there's not many places where you can say that. The consequences of missing from there can be pretty drastic, and that can really shake a player and test their nerves on the next shot, and on the next hole. Players have a love/hate relationship with it. Everybody says they love it but at the same time it beats so many of them up when they go back there.

Dave McNeilly: The thing I like least about the week is the pedantic nature of the golfers and their preparation. The practice rounds are just brutal. They're firing balls into bunkers, taking chip shots, putting from all over the place and trying to cover every square inch. I've had practice rounds around there and they've taken six hours.

Ronan Flood: There's a lot of stress involved. You notice it most on Wednesday, fellas tweaking their clubs, working with their swing coaches… everybody is a bit on edge.

Graeme McDowell: We're definitely on a thinner edge Wednesdays than normal. Pete Cowen (swing coach) calls it PMS - Pre-Major-Stress.

Jude O'Reilly: Everybody is just happy to be there when they arrive, or to be returning there, but then suddenly the test is coming. The exam is about to begin. Anything that may be slightly off is going to be shown up. And shown up severely. That's why you have that shift.

Ronan Flood: There's stress at all the Majors but the Masters is different. It's the first Major since the end of August, so they've spent the whole time preparing for it.

Graeme McDowell: Augusta is my favourite golf course in the world. I love Augusta, I love the Masters, but it's an unrequited love. I could play it every day and be very, very happy but from a competitive point of view I've just never settled into it. I go there and I try to be too perfect. I'm standing there thinking that I have to hit the perfect shot, on the perfect flight, and land it in a three or four-yard radius or I'm going to make bogey or worse. That's kind of how of I feel over every iron shot and it makes me uncomfortable.

Dermot Gilleece: I remember talking to Graeme after his debut in 2005 and he was crushed, really. I imagine he had great ambition for himself and, though he would never say it to you, there was a sense that he knew immediately it wasn't for him. Augusta does that to you. It gets into your head. It convinced Lee Trevino that he could never win it.

2 'I blame Seve'

Early morning sunshine was filtering through the ubiquitous pines as Darren Clarke made his way to the practice ground at Augusta National yesterday. By being first to report for work before 8.0 and clad in a windcheater against the chill Georgia air, he was acknowledging a rather special event.

Clarke played practice rounds last Saturday and Sunday with his coach, Peter Cowen. So, what did he think of the course?

"The front nine, which you don't see on television, was much more difficult than I had imagined," he replied. I suggested that perhaps he had the fourth (250-yard par three) and fifth (435-yard par four) in mind? "Yes - and the sixth, seventh, eight, and ninth," he said with a grin.

Darren Clarke gives Dermot Gilleece his first impressions of Augusta

On the first Saturday of April 1998, a 29-year-old Dungannon man arrived at Augusta National to surprising news. "Really?" he said. "I'm only the sixth Irishman to play in the Masters?" His caddie, an amiable Yorkshireman called Billy Foster, had worked at the tournament six times before - five with Seve Ballesteros and once with David Frost.

Billy Foster: There are millions of people around the world who would love to get through the front gates. And I'm not saying I don't enjoy the tournament because apart from the Open, it's probably the one every European would most like to win. But as a caddie you are on a hiding to nothing around here.

The first year Clarkey played in '98 I was like a guide dog. He was listening to everything I said. In the first round he did everything right until 17, when he hit a soft sand-wedge that pitched five yards short of the flag and bounced over the back. Then he chipped up and four-putted. I was absolutely gutted - you switched off for a second and had a seven on the card.

Darren Clarke: It was the one serious mistake I made all day and I paid dearly for it. Now I know what they mean when they talk about having experience around here. I'd never attempt that shot again. But I'm not out of it yet.

Three days later, Clarke shot a 67.

Dermot Gilleece: It was the lowest round ever by an Irishman at the Masters. Of the 26 tournament rounds played by Joe Carr (10), Christy O'Connor Jnr (2), Garth McGimpsey (4), Ronan Rafferty (6) and David Feherty (4) at Augusta, Rafferty was the only player to break 70, with a third round of 69 in 1990.

Clarke finished eighth in the tournament - the best ever finish by an Irishman. Five years later, with a new caddie on his bag, he became the first to lead the Masters in 2003.

JP Fitzgerald: There was bad weather that year and they cancelled play until Friday. I think it took about six hours to play the first round and then we had to go out again about 20 minutes later. He had a three-shot lead but we had no time to enjoy it. I think we played about 27 holes before play was suspended. He was out of shape and got really tired.

Dermot Gilleece: Clarke got to play 10 holes of his second round, completing the day with two successive bogeys. But the real damage to his prospects was done the following (Saturday) morning when, setting off to complete the second round, he knocked his approach shot at the 11th into water, running up a double-bogey six. That led eventually to a 76.

Worse was to follow later on Saturday when he carded a horrendous nine on the 13th, en route to a third round of 78. Sunday was less painful, but a final round of 74 for a share of 28th place contrasted sharply with his elevated position of two days previously.

Paul McGinley: Did we really believe we could win the Masters back then? I certainly didn't think so. The guy who changed the mindset and broke that barrier down was Pádraig.

Shane Lowry: Pádraig had a chance to win - that's my only memory of the Irish at Augusta.

Dermot Gilleece: It always struck me that Pádraig was the one likely to do it because he had the overall game, in my view. Ultimately, Augusta is all about the short game. Ben Crenshaw used to hit it sideways but was a great putter. (Bernhard) Langer was arguably the greatest long putter in the game and was a terrific pitcher and chipper of the ball. (Jose Maria) Olazabal had a wonderful up-and-down game. So for me, Harrington fitted the bill perfectly as a likely Irish winner.

On April 7, 2007, at precisely 2.05pm, Harrington walked off the first tee in the final round of his seventh Masters. He had finished fifth in 2002 (and had led briefly through 11 holes) but had never truly contended. Now he was close - one shot behind the favourite Tiger Woods and two shots behind the 54-hole leader, Stuart Appleby.

Pádraig Harrington: You know you're in contention at Augusta when you're nervous on the back nine. And I was nervous. I stood on that 10th tee and it was like entering a different world: 'Oh my God! I'm here! This is my chance!'

Ronan Flood: I was more nervous on the first tee than I was on the 10th. The front nine hadn't gone great for us and we were a few back.

Pádraig Harrington: I par 10 and bogey 11 and now I'm four shots behind. It's a reminder: 'You're not winning this Pádraig unless you do something special.' So I go for the pin on 12.

Ronan Flood: It's my favourite hole - perhaps the best par three in golf - but as a caddie it's the most stressful hole we play all year. You pick the club, he's standing over the ball, and you're just hoping that it stays dry, or doesn't pitch in the bushes at the back. I don't know what it is about the wind in that corner but three guys will hit the same club and they'll all hit it in different spots. But it's always the caddie that pays the bill: 'What happened there?'

Graeme McDowell: ESPN did that thing four or five years ago where they put all these drones in there to check the wind in and around the green, and apparently there's a vortex in that little corner. You look at the flag at 11 and it's doing one thing, and you look at the flag on 12 and its doing another, and you look at your map of the course and where the wind is supposed to be and it's doing something else. It's a real head-scratcher. You've got to just pick a number and try to commit to it as best you can.

JP Fitzgerald: In my very first Masters with Paul (McGinley) we played a practice round with Tom Watson. I asked questions the whole way around and when we got to the 12th he said: "You find out where the wind is, or where it should be, and you don't let your player hit until that wind is there. For example, if it's a north-west wind and in off the left, you wait until it's in off the left." I've done that with every player since and passed it on to Rory. And I'd say his record on the hole is pretty good.

Ronan Flood: We had always played the 12th by hitting the tee shot over the middle of the bunker and taking our chances with the putt. We talked about it, but after the bogey on 11 we had to hit at every pin and try to make birdies. I can't remember what (club) he hit but he went straight at it and it finished a couple of feet. Then he made the putt.

Pádraig Harrington: I decided to go across the corner on 13 - a new play for me. Then I hit it on the green and made eagle, and now I'm really pumped. I'm two shots off the lead and have to seriously settle down.

Ronan Flood: Was I excited? Well, it's not my job to be excited but he now has a genuine chance to win the Masters, so I was probably more excited than I have been on a golf course at any other time.

Pádraig Harrington: On 14, I've hit driver and tried to draw it but it goes dead-straight. And I'm so pumped-up I've probably hit this thing 340 yards into the trees. We go down and as Ronan is doing the yardage and trying to work an angle, I'm walking up (towards the green) to get a feel for the shot.

Ronan Flood: I think we had 98 yards to the pin or something. I'm standing by the ball, close to the ropes, and as Paddy is walking back I feel someone tapping me on the right shoulder and my heart just dropped. I thought, 'It's a green jacket (an official)! What have we done wrong? It's a penalty!' I turn around and it's a guy - an Irish lad - and he looks at me and goes: "How far has he got? What's he going to hit?" And I'm just flabbergasted.

Pádraig Harrington: A friend of ours, Mick Turley, is standing behind this guy and reaches in over the back and literally grabs him by the collar and lifts him out of the crowd (laughs). Your man just couldn't contain himself. I hit lob wedge and made par and walked to the 15th tee.

Dermot Gilleece: There are certain holes in golf - the 18th at Carnoustie is certainly one - that Harrington doesn't like. Now he won't tell you he doesn't like them because he's very conscious of the psychology of these things. David Feherty was once asked what was the toughest shot at Augusta, and he said the third into the 15th.

That surprised a lot of people who would automatically figure that you'd be going for the 15th in two. But if you lay-up there for whatever reason, you're playing probably a wedge shot from a downhill lie to an elevated green with a pretty shallow landing area. And Harrington, despite having a wonderful short game, just didn't like it. And he rarely played the hole particularly well. I remember it being a no-go area with us - you just didn't talk to him about the 15th.

Pádraig Harrington: It's such a tight tee shot. You have half a fairway to aim at (or be blocked by the trees on the left) and you have to hit it. And I do. I hit a great drive back into the wind and I'm far enough down - maybe 220 down the hill. So I'm hitting a hybrid to the back right pin - a nice, generous pin, a pin where you can make an eagle. And I hit a beautiful shot straight at it.

Ronan Flood: In the air, it looked like it could come down in the hole. It never left the flag.

Pádraig Harrington: In my head I could see it finishing within a foot. It was stone dead. It pitches on the front of the green and jumps forward maybe three or four yards and then stops and rolls back into the water.

Ronan Flood: Neither of us thought it was short - you would have said it was plenty of club - it's probably pitched ten yards short of the flag, where we thought it was pitching up there. So you're in disbelief looking at it. And that it was it, right there. The Masters was done on that hole.

Pádraig Harrington: I don't know how many people said to me afterwards, 'Zach Johnson laid up on all the par fives and played them in 11 under par. Why didn't you do that?' Because I don't play golf that way.

Ronan Flood: Do I remember how we played the 15th that week?

Pádraig Harrington: I've no idea. I remember the six on Sunday.

Ronan Flood: I'd say about five over (triple-bogey, birdie, double-bogey, bogey.)

Pádraig Harrington: Really? Wow! People say I never figured out how to play the hole, I'd say I never felt comfortable on it. I blame Seve.

Dermot Gilleece: It was a bit of a surprise that Zach Johnson should have won a Major at that stage. He played in The Heritage Harbour Town the following week, and when I asked him, as an Irish journalist, what he thought about Pádraig's Major prospects, he replied: "Pádraig will win a Major pretty soon, you won't have to wait long." And sure enough, four months later, he had captured the Open at Carnoustie.

3 Crash

Rory McIlroy stood head and shoulders above the rest at Rosses Point yesterday, but the 17-year-old Holywood star still wasn't happy with his game despite cruising into the last 16 of the Radisson-SAS West of Ireland Championship.

After a casual performance in the second qualifying round on Saturday, when he shot a four-over-par 75, the reigning champion came out firing on all cylinders and left Portmarnock's David Kelleher on the receiving end of a 2&1 first-round defeat.

On the morning after the 2007 Masters, on the same page as the news of Harrington's demise, The Irish Times carried a report about a 17-year-old wunderkind: 'McIlroy juggernaut rumbles on.' Four months later, when Harrington lifted the Claret Jug, the kid finished tied 42nd on his debut at The Open. Two years after that, he finished tied 20th on his debut at the Masters. And two years after that, on the morning of the final round, he led the Masters by four shots…

Dermot Gilleece: Harrington's win at the Open in '07 changed everything vis à vis Irish players. He influenced Clarke and McDowell but he didn't influence Rory, and it would be silly to suggest he did, because Rory was Rory. He paid a visit to Harrington's house that year and there was no deference - he was respectful, but there was absolutely no deference.

Stephen Watson: We had been following him since the start of the year for a documentary we were making (for BBC Northern Ireland). So when we followed him to the Masters and he was leading by four shots going into the final day we thought, 'Jeepers! What a programme we are going to have here!'

JP Fitzgerald: He played with (Jason) Day on the Saturday and they matched each other shot for shot. Then Day made a mistake on 13, and Rory holed a good long putt on 17, and all of a sudden he was leading by four. It was like you had left the TV for a cup of tea and come back and he has a four-shot lead. It happened very fast.

Graeme McDowell: I watched him playing nine holes on Saturday - perhaps the one and only time I have spectated as a professional golfer. I'd missed the cut, so I got a pair of sunglasses and an incognito hat and had a couple of beers to blend in with the crowd. We would have been particularly close in those days.

Rory McIlroy: Graeme was out watching me. He sent me a text (that evening) and told me he loved me… I don't know if that was him or the beer talking (laughs).

Graeme McDowell: I flew back (home) to Orlando that evening and watched the final round with Ricky Elliot. (A year later, Elliot would be the ninth Irishman to caddie at Augusta).

Pádraig Harrington: I missed the cut that year but stayed over, and watched the final round in the house we were renting. Did I leave Rory a note? No, I'm not that sort of person… well, I've changed - I tried wholeheartedly to leave a note for Shane last year at the US Open - but I wouldn't have done that in 2011. It's not that I didn't want Rory to win but he was very much a competitor of mine at that stage. I didn't see him as the number one, I saw me as the number one.

Ronan Flood: We missed the cut but I stayed on with Pádraig, and watched the final round with him.

Shane Lowry: I was living in (an apartment) in Carton House at the time and watched it on Sunday night.

Pádraig Harrington: Was I interested? Absolutely, I was drawn in like everybody else. I saw no other winner but Rory. I thought he couldn't fail.

Graeme McDowell: I thought he was going to win.

JP Fitzgerald: I expected him to win.

Shane Lowry: I thought he would win.

Ronan Flood: I couldn't see anyone else.

Dermot Gilleece: We were seriously buzzed-up about it, there's no question about that, but by that stage I was sufficiently familiar with the course to know there were huge dangers lying in wait. There are no soft options on any hole. There is no way you can defend a lead as such. You can lay up on the par fives but even at that you're still gambling because you've got to decide what route you're going to take on 13, for instance. The 12th is so difficult… the 11th is so difficult…

Jude O'Reilly: You can make a double (bogey) on any hole without having a disaster, and if another player birdies that's a three-shot swing. So when are you safe at Augusta?

Pádraig Harrington: I remember Lee Westwood talking once about when he led (in 1999) and how his world changed when reached the 10th tee. I've been there. I know how it feels. It's like the Lotto ad: 'It could be you!' Maybe Rory got drawn into that.

Dermot Gilleece: I'd seen so many collapses on the back nine… you remember Floyd… you remember Hoch and we'll never forget Norman. With Rory I thought: 'He's comfortable.' But you never know. And then he snap-hooked it into the trees.

Shane Lowry: I couldn't believe it. He's the best driver of a golf ball in the world. And you won't understand it until you've stood on that tee. The fairway is wide and easy to hit but you're trying to leave yourself a good second shot into that green: turn (the tee shot) around the corner and you'll be hitting an eight-iron from a good lie. Hit it straight and you'll be hitting a five-iron off a down-slope.

Ronan Flood: I suppose, like everyone, I thought: 'Why didn't he hit three-wood?' Because it's easier to turn a three-wood than a driver. But he had hit driver for three days and hit it well, so I could understand.

Shane Lowry: A little low pull and that can happen.

Pádraig Harrington: It's easily done. We've all done it. I could hit that shot and go: 'This happened last week as well.' (laughs) But for Rory it was unfamiliar territory.

Ronan Flood: He was 70 yards off the tee box beside a cabin! He had made the game look easy all week and turned the Masters into a procession. Now the whole world was looking at him - we'd never seen that shot on TV before - and he was embarrassed. I don't know if he even walked out to see where he was going to hit it. From what I remember, he stood by the ball and JP went out and looked.

Rory McIlroy: It was like being hit by a punch. I was literally in a daze. I'm (standing) between these two cabins and I don't know what to think. I'm like, 'What the fuck is going on?' That was the start of it, but I think when it really (unravelled) was… I hit two great shots into 11 and three-putted from what, 12 feet? And then I four-putted on 12 and was just completely flustered.

JP Fitzgerald: He hit a great shot into 11 to about seven or eight feet behind the hole and I thought, 'Make this and we're right back in it.' He three-putted. Then he hit a really lovely shot into 12 and four-putted.

Dermot Gilleece: I became seriously worried at 12 and 13. It wasn't so much the way he played them - and he didn't play them well - it was his body language. His body language had changed utterly. And you can only assume there was some understanding that made JP stand off. I don't know what went between them but clearly Rory was very rattled. You could see that in his face. He looked like a lost child.

JP Fitzgerald: As we were walking towards the 13th tee he said - and I'll never forget it - "I didn't think I was going to finish the hole." No matter what you say to him - and I was saying everything - he feels he can't hit a shot. He was totally gone. It was just horrible.

Shane Lowry: I remember feeling really sorry for him.

Pádraig Harrington: I don't ever feel sorry for golfers but that was one of the few times.

Graeme McDowell: It was a crazy day, one of those moments in golf when you just felt sick to your stomach.

Pádraig Harrington: I was shocked. It was car-crash TV.

Shane Lowry: The next morning I was driving-up to play Royal County Down and was stopped for speeding. The guard started asking me about it. "Did Rory blow it?"

Rory McIlroy: I went to bed obviously very disappointed but not feeling as bad as I could have. The next morning (I phoned my mother). I was outside the driveway and remember leaning on the Mercedes car that they gave us for the week and she started to cry and it was bad, really tough, and that's when it all sort of hit me.

Stephen Watson: We filmed him when he went home, and the thing that always struck me was that he didn't seem that bothered about it. He was, of course, upset that he hadn't won but he also said: "I'm going to learn from this. I know I will." I told everybody at the time that I believed him and they all just laughed: "He's had a meltdown. He'll be lucky if he ever recovers from this."

Dermot Gilleece: A lot of the American commentators were saying that it would take him a long, long time to get over it and my feeling was 'No, he'll be fine.' He was 21 years of age and because of his youth, and the huge talent he had, I couldn't see lasting scars. I wrote as much at the time.

It's Thursday afternoon at Augusta National. The first round of the 81st Masters is underway. Colin Byrne is on the course with Rafa Cabrera Bello. Pádraig Harrington is in the media centre thinking about lunch. Dermot Byrne and Shane Lowry have taken to the chipping green. Stephen Watson and his cameraman, Gary McCutcheon, have secured a position to film on the driving range. It is 12:40pm.

Rory McIlroy is on the premises.

It's been a good week for the World number two. On Sunday, he announced a $100m extension to his sponsorship deal with Nike. On Monday, he warmed up at home in Florida as the state of Georgia was being battered by storms. On Tuesday, he played a practice round at Augusta National with a golfer called Luck and birded his first hole.

"Go Rory," the fans cheered as he exited the green.

Fifty years have passed since JB Carr became the first Irishman to play at the Masters. What if Rory McIlroy was the first Irishman to win it? What if this was his year?

Stephen Watson: People keep saying, 'You must hope this is the year that he wins it.' And I say 'Absolutely.' But we hope that every single year.

Pádraig Harrington: I would love to be the first Irishman to win the Masters but I can't control that. And if Rory were to do it I'd be delighted for him. Only five people in history have won the Grand Slam. Tom Watson never did it. Phil Mickelson never did it. It would be an incredible achievement.

Paul McGinley: An Irishman winning the Masters is nowhere near as big a deal as it might have been ten years ago. Pádraig winning in Carnoustie broke all of those barriers so for me, the ripples would be bigger than an Irish context. He would be the first European to ever win the Grand Slam. Think about that: Seve never did it. Faldo never did it. Lyle never did it. It would be huge… and he's still in his 20s!

Ronan Flood: He's already a member of an elite club of golfers who have won Majors, but to win all four would cement his name as one of the all-time great players.

Dermot Gilleece: It would represent a coming of age for Irish golf. From a nation once content with moral victories, we would become an improbable powerhouse of the game, represented by the career Grand Slam.

Sunday Indo Sport

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