Thursday 27 June 2019

McIlroy: I'm 'totally ready' to take on Masters challenge

Rory McIlroy Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Rory McIlroy Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy insists he's "totally ready" for a tilt at the career Grand Slam as he continues his countdown to the Masters with a debut appearance in the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook.

Despite struggling in the wind at the Honda Classic two weeks ago, running up a triple-bogey and a quadruple-bogey at the Bear Trap's 17th, he believes he's ready to build confidence and momentum as he seeks a green jacket to go with his recently-acquired US green card.

As he waited for snow-delayed coach Michael Bannon to fly in from Ireland at the weekend to iron out any kinks in his swing caused by the wind at PGA National, McIlroy took advantage of his week off to make a quick reconnaissance trip to Augusta National.

The Holywood ace played with Augusta member Jeff Knox - the club ace who beat him as a marker in the 2014 Masters - father Gerry, his manager Sean O'Flaherty, and Seminole president Jim Dunn.

And while he scotched rumours that the 13th tee has been pushed further left to stop the likes of Bubba Watson cutting the corner, he sounded confident about his chances of clinching the Major he needs to become just the sixth player in the modern era to win all four Majors.

"Totally prepared," he said when asked how prepared he feels his date with destiny. "I'd be happy to go to Augusta tomorrow and play and feel like I have a good chance, yeah."

Tiger Woods is also taking on Copperhead's famed, three-hole finishing stretch - the 'Snake Pit' - for the first time this week.

And like Woods, who will also join McIlroy in next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the Co Down man sees this week as an ideal opportunity to sharpen up the approach play that let him down in his last start.

"My swing got a little out of sync in the wind and made a couple of big numbers at 17 which didn't help," McIlroy said, calling Innisbrook a second-shot golf course in the Augusta mould. "So, I hope the Snake Pit is better to me than the Bear Trap.

"It's been nice to have a week off and wind up at Augusta for a couple days. I actually played quite a bit of golf last week."

If it's another big week for McIlroy, Woods and Jordan Spieth as the Masters approaches, it's also a key week for Shane Lowry, who needs to finish solo 15th at worst if he's to join McIlroy in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin in a fortnight.

A win would also get Lowry into the Masters but like fellow Irish raiders Pádraig Harrington, Seamus Power and Graeme McDowell, he'll be keen to put four rounds together after a slow start to the season.

Like Woods and McIlroy, Lowry is also making his debut at a new venue this week and it's also a new venue for Darren Clarke, who is the only Irish player teeing it up in the European Tour's Hero Indian Open at DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi.

All eyes will be on India's Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma (21), who led last week's WGC-Mexico Championship after 54 holes, earning a special invitation to the Masters.

Irish Independent

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