Wednesday 22 November 2017

McIlroy chases elusive win and Masters boost

Rory McIlroy (PA)
Rory McIlroy (PA)
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy tees off in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill today in search of the win he feels is necessary before the Masters at Augusta.

Given that he is the world No 2, has won four Majors, and is wonderfully talented, who would bet against one of the Crown Princes of the game achieving his short-term goal?

Well, canny punters might well place some of their hard-earned cash on prospects other than McIlroy. The reason? It's simple. Winning any tournament on the PGA Tour is a really difficult proposition.

For the Northern Ireland star to succeed any given week, he could be obliged to eclipse such luminaries as Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, and Dustin Johnson, to name a few.

If only that lot were the weekly threat, it would be tough enough, but lurking in the pack, and ravenous for their day in the sun, are the lesser lights who also pose a significant threat.

These are the guys who have earned their place on Tour but who remain largely unnoticed by the vast majority of golfing fans - until they are accepting a cheque for a million dollars, raising the tournament trophy aloft and thanking the wife, the caddie, the coach, mom, dad, and anyone else they can think of in the flush of victory.

Take a bow Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufman, Justin Thomas, Peter Malnati, Russell Knox and Kevin Kisner who have earned their maiden PGA Tour wins in the first five months of this 2015-'16 season.

Their breakthrough success highlights the strength in depth and the competitiveness in every tournament throughout the season.

Pádraig Harrington, who plays in the Hero Indian Open in Delhi today, recently spoke about the difficulty of snatching a 'W', as Tiger Woods calls it, on the PGA Tour.

"It's very hard to win in the States. I feel it's even harder to win a regular event than it is to win a Major.

"The standard is very high, it's very deep, and in a regular event it's like a 100-metre sprint. You're not sure who is going to come out on top," he said.

Bay Hill, home of The King, Arnold Palmer, presents a formidable field this week, despite the absence of Jordan Spieth who sits this one out, as does Bubba Watson because of a niggling back injury.

The challenge for McIlroy, from within himself more than anything, is to bring the form he showed in Doral for 54 holes, and get the job done.

A 75 on the last day of the Northern Trust Open, a missed cut at the Honda Classic, and the squandering of a four shot lead in the final round at Doral - he shot 74 on the Sunday - has brought Rory close, but no cigar.

"I've got two events left to try to get that win before going to Augusta, and I'm hopefully going to get it.

"I feel like my schedule is good leading up to Augusta, and I feel like my game is in good shape.

"I just need to figure out what I'm doing in these final rounds and try to rectify it," said McIlroy, who is joined in the tournament by Graeme McDowell.

Paul Dunne is in action in India as is Michael Hoey, while the Kenyan Open on the Challenge Tour occupies the attention of Kevin Phelan, Ruaidhri McGee, Gareth Shaw, Chris Selfridge, Gavin Moynihan, and Gary Hurley.

Waterford golfer Seamus Power plays in the Louisiana Open on the Tour.

Meanwhile, world No 1 amateur, Leona Maguire of Duke University, has been named the ACC Women's Co-Golfer of the Month for February. Maguire shared the honour with Kim Metraux of Florida State.

The award reflects her consistently good form for Duke and is a good omen for the Cavan golfer's appearance in the first LPGA Major of the season, the Ana Inspiration, to be played at Rancho Mirage from March 31-April 3.

Leona and her twin sister Lisa, who went through a major swing change last year, are joined on the Duke squad by six international players - Celine Boutier (France), Virginia Elena Carta (Italy), Sandy Choi (Seoul), Gurbani Singh (India) and Yi Xiao (China).

Hero Indian Open, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.00am

Arnold Palmer Invitational, Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.00pm

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