'Rory can click into gear'
Coach Bannon tips McIlroy to find form in time for Masters
The person who knows Rory McIlroy's game best is unconcerned that some of the gloss is missing from one of golf's exciting young stars ahead of next week's US Masters.
Michael Bannon was first introduced to McIlroy when the then two-year-old stepped out onto Holywood Golf Club and drove a golf ball some 40 yards. Bannon has since helped to nurture McIlroy through a sterling amateur career and into a very successful professional career.
The 52-year-old has accompanied McIlroy to Texas, where he will tee-up in the Shell Houston Open. He will also travel with McIlroy on Sunday to Augusta, Georgia, where McIlroy will be making a second straight Masters appearance.
But after revealing he had a back complaint after his Omega Dubai Desert title defence, McIlroy has battled to regain the form that last year earned him a first pro win and 11 other top-five results, along with prize money in Europe alone of €3.6m.
Bannon was on the Redstone practice range yesterday overseeing the fine-tuning efforts of the current world No 11 and dispelling any concerns over McIlroy's ongoing back injury and a corresponding downturn in form.
"Rory is just like any other player, as you get highs and lows, and it's just he's had a bit of a low recently and hopefully he is going to come out of it," said Bannon.
"He's a natural golfer so it will come back. He's just going through a little phase where he had a couple of bad tournaments. It's up and down, but suddenly it clicks and your confidence is up."
McIlroy's third full season in the pro ranks began well enough with a third in Abu Dhabi and then a sixth two weeks later in Dubai.
But revelations of a lower back complaint have since been reflected in his scoring as he was bundled out after two rounds of February's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, while he was placed 40th in the Honda Classic and then a lowly 65th in the recent WGC-CA Championship in Florida.
Bannon was also asked if he felt the back ailment had dented McIlroy's confidence. "No, it's been just a couple of bad scores," he responded. "If he plays bad, his confidence goes down and he's then wondering, 'how in the hell did I ever play well?'. Then when you are playing well, you wonder, 'how did I ever play bad?'."
McIlroy will tee-up in Houston at 12.10 local time (6.10 Irish time) while Padraig Harrington will tee-up at 8.10 local time (2.10 Irish). The Irish duo lead a strong European contingent in Texas on a course set up to help golfers prepare for the Masters.
Englishmen Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Chris Wood and Lee Westwood will tee off today as well as exiled PGA Tour regulars Martin Laird of Scotland and English duo Greg Owen and Luke Donald. Two-time Masters winner and world No 3 Phil Mickelson and world No 6 Ernie Els also compete, as does Fred Couples, coming off his third win of the season on the Champions' Tour.
Westwood also feels ready for Augusta National, thanks to a scouting mission there on Sunday and Monday.
"I feel more ready for the Masters this year than ever before," said the world No 4. "It was good to get out there with nobody there, no crowds there and just be able to wander around.
"It really is a big advantage to be able to get out there and do your work with nobody sort of watching you."
The Houston Open,
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