Friday 24 November 2017

Harrington feels Rory is 'bullet-proof' for Masters as Mickelson hits form in Houston

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY goes to next week's Masters and his bid for a Career Grand Slam with an impenetrable ring of confidence, according to Padraig Harrington.

Professionals rate World No 1 McIlroy's golf game as a perfect fit for Augusta National, but Harrington believes one of the Holywood native's greatest strength at the Masters will be his Kevlar self-belief.

"Ultimately, Rory has had a couple of mini-slumps (in his career) and he has come out of them as strong if not stronger," said the Dubliner. "He's got to feel bullet-proof.

"Making those mistakes on Sunday at Augusta (in 2011) yet being able to come back and win the US Open 70 days later took enormous fortitude and also brought with it tremendous self-belief."

Harrington went on: "Being able to go and win in Australia coming off a really bad run in Europe and the States in 2013 also brings an awful lot of faith. Rory has the ability to play great golf and is blessed with the belief that if it doesn't go well for a spell, it'll come back.

"If he doesn't win at Augusta next week, it's not going to be that big a deal for him as he knows he's capable of going out and winning the next one. That takes the pressure off. He knows it's not the be-all and end-all when it comes to defining him as a golfer. So he's in a good spot."

Harrington insists McIlroy will have little difficulty rising above the hullabaloo surrounding his bid, at age 25, to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in history as the only winners of a Career Grand Slam.

"Rory is well able to manage the hype, because he has had to," the veteran explained. "It's a bit like Tiger. He was brilliant at managing it because that was his life, and it has become Rory's life too."

Harrington is feeling pretty invulnerable himself after ensuring his return to Augusta National with last month's stunning victory at The Honda Classic. "I'm in a good place now where I'm focused just on playing good golf at the Masters," he said.

Sadly, the 43-year-old ended up in a couple of pretty nasty places in the closing stages yesterday to spoil what promised to be a fine opening round at the Shell Houston Open.

Harrington was cruising just outside the top-10 after back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 but then dropped three shots in his final six holes for a frustrating 71.

Penalty strokes incurred after yanking shots left and deep into trouble led to bogey six at 13 and bogey five at 17, while he three-putted from 55 feet for a disappointing four at the par three 14th.


Harrington was tied on one-under with Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke, who also played sublimely before dropping two shots out of the blue.

Clarke was three-under and bogey-free through 15 holes until late dropped shots - out of a greenside trap at 16 and after a three-putt from 78 feet at 18 - left him with a frustrating 71.

In all, the Ryder Cup skipper had 33 putts on a day in which he played excellently from tee to green.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson broke free of his recent lethargy with a morale-boosting 66 that left him three off the clubhouse lead established by Scott Piercy with a course record-equalling 63 at Redstone.

"It's fun to start playing well and to feel good with all the different parts of my game," said Mickelson, who chipped in for birdie at 10, his first, and was flawless until making bogey four with a loose shot out of a greenside bunker at his last.

"The 2011 Houston Open-winner was tied on six-under with Charles Howell II and Luke Guthrie

Stephanie Meadow played her first round of 2015 in four-over 76 to trail early clubhouse leaders Charley Hull, Na Yeon Choi and Austin Ernst by six at the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills in California.

ANA Inspiration LPGA,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.0pm, 11.0

Shell Houston Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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