Saturday 18 November 2017

Toe to toe: McIlroy vs Woods at Augusta

How Rory rates hole-by-hole against Tiger at the Masters

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his bunker shot while on the practice range in preparation for the Masters golf tournament
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his bunker shot while on the practice range in preparation for the Masters golf tournament
Tiger Woods has announced on his official website he will miss the Masters after having surgery on a pinched nerve in his back

Karl MacGinty

THE first time Rory McIlroy played Augusta National in 2009, most people wondered when he would win the Masters.

Five fascinating and often traumatic years later, it's more pertinent to ask 'if' McIlroy will some day don that famous Green Jacket.

The 24-year-old Holywood native has such easy power and his game fits Augusta so perfectly, it's easy to imagine Masters founding father Bobby Jones and course architect Alistair MacKenzie built this Garden of Eden with guys like him in mind.

There are sound reasons why McIlroy is bookies' favourite, albeit a lukewarm one, this week.

He's more in command of his golf swing, more comfortable with his equipment, appears more settled off the course and definitely is stronger mentally than the distracted young man who blew last year's Masters during an ugly five-hole stretch on Saturday.

Yet McIlroy has become trapped on too many runaway rollercoasters at Augusta to inspire confidence in his prospects in the season's first Major.

Forensic hole-by-hole analysis of McIlroy's five outings at the Masters paints an intriguing picture, especially when compared to the figures posted in the same period by that modern master of Augusta, Tiger Woods.

Tiger doesn't play this week as he recovers from back surgery but the world No 1 remains the yardstick against which a player of McIlroy's phenomenal talent must be measured.

The Ulsterman has played 18 rounds at Augusta since his debut and his average score of 72.432 is nearly two strokes outside Tiger's. The world No 1 played his 20 rounds in an average 70.5 strokes.

TRAUMA

Of course, Woods has 'the knowledge' at Augusta. "I've spent half my life playing this tournament," he shrugs. Yet Tiger won the most recent of his four Masters in 2005 and has endured physical trauma and immense upheaval in his private life since 2009.

Over the past five years, Woods out-performed McIlroy on 14 of the 18 holes at Augusta, especially the par-fives, where Green Jackets are won and lost.

Seve Ballesteros applied a very pragmatic formula at this event: "par every hole and birdie three of the par-fives each day and you'll certainly win the Masters".

While McIlroy is an aggregate 19-under-par for the 72 par-fives he has played at Augusta, Woods played his 80 over the same period in 41-under!

McIlroy has racked up seven double-bogeys and three triple-bogey sevens at Augusta. In that time, Tiger has only once made worse than bogey at any hole: a treble-bogey eight at 15 on Friday last year. Initially, he signed for six there but a two-stroke penalty was added the following Saturday after officials learned that Woods had taken a drop in the wrong spot. Controversially, Tiger was allowed to play on.

McIlroy is clearly uncomfortable on certain holes at Augusta. For example, he has never made birdie at one or 10. An unsettling bogey five at the first on Sunday in 2011 set the tone for a final-round 80 in which a triple-bogey seven from hitherto unexplored territory between the cabins to the left of 10 sent the youngster into meltdown.

McIlroy dropped six shots in three holes that afternoon after leading the tournament for three and a half rounds. Most would have been scarred by the experience but by winning the US Open at Congressional 70 days later, he banished any lingering self-doubt.

Still, he has a disturbing tendency to screw up in clusters at Augusta.

Though he showed true Masters-winning potential by landing six birdies in his last 10 holes on Sunday in 2009, the previous Friday, McIlroy dropped five shots in the closing three. He narrowly escaped disqualification when the committee ruled he merely smoothed, not kicked, the sand after failing to get out of a greenside trap on his way to an ugly seven at the last.

Since Black Sunday in 2011, McIlroy has twice gone walkabout at the weekend, making sixes at one, seven and eight on his way to a calamitous outward 42 during a 77 on Saturday in 2012, then coming home in six-over 42 in last year's third-round 79.

In fairness, he has outscored Tiger and everyone else by a street on the par-three fourth; he has been formidable at nine; he enjoys the upper hand on 17 and, apart from that second-round hiccup in 2009, has looked masterful up the last.

So McIlroy must be fancied if it's neck and neck down those final two holes – but getting himself into that position at the Masters is the problem.

He has the talent but as Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and a host of others attest, at the Masters, that's not enough.

RESILIENT

The multiple-Masters champions – Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Gary Player, Sam Snead, Nick Faldo and, yes, Arnie Palmer – were phenomenally disciplined and mentally resilient.

Pointedly, Phil Mickelson had to wait until age 34 to win his first Green Jacket and only then after mapping a way around Augusta with former NASA rocket scientist and short-game guru Dave Pelz.

Patience and playing the percentages are critical, according to Nicklaus.

"It's a golf course that when you make a mistake, it's really difficult to make up for it," said the six-times Masters-winner. "So I stress, why risk putting yourself out of the tournament with one shot? I wouldn't take risks unless it was necessary."

McIlroy can complain of occasional misfortune, like at 10 that Sunday in 2011 when his drive pinged back off a tree bough. Or at 15 on Saturday last year when a decent approach trickled back off the green into the pond, leading to a seven.

Yet guys like Nicklaus played more to the percentages than pure chance. Until he learns to temper his natural aggression, one fears McIlroy will continue to rack up hard luck stories at Augusta as opposed to Green Jackets.

How Rory rates hole-by-hole against Tiger at the Masters

Hole 1: Tea Olive, Par 4 (445 yards)

Where the nightmare really began on Black Sunday for McIlroy in 2011. He’s never made birdie on this slight dogleg right. It’s a tight tee shot, with trees right and left and a 300-yards carry over the yawning right bunker. Rory made double-bogey six twice here in 2012. Yet when his overly-ambitious approach bounded through the heavily contoured green on Sunday in 2011, bogey set the tone for his darkest day.

Rory’s average: 4.338

Field average: 4.270

Tiger Average: 4.050

Rory v Par +7

Rory’s best score: 4 ( Worst 6)

Hole 2: Pink Dogwood, Par 5 (575 yards)

The tee shot appears to be a perfect fit for McIlroy’s ball shape as he can draw it off the bunker right. He played the hole conservatively last year, opting for 5-wood off the tee and still landed two birdies. McIlroy’s never made bogey in 18 visits to this hole, clocking up eight birdies in that time.

Rory’s average: 4.666

Field average: 4.683

Tiger Average: 4.750

Rory v Par -6

Rory’s best score: 4 ( Worst 5)

Hole 3: Flowering Peach, Par 4 (350 yards)

McIlroy’s had five birdies at this short, strategic par four. Yet he had to wait until the third round last year to land one at the weekend as pressure begins to mount at The Masters and the Tournament Committee sets wicked pins. Still, he’s bogeyed the hole just twice, on Sunday in ’09 and Thursday last year.

Rory’s average: 3.833

Field average: 3.936

Tiger Average: 3.650

Rory v Par -3

Rory’s best score: 3 ( Worst 5)

Hole 4: Flowering Crab Apple, Par 3 (240 yards)

Few play this brutal par-3 better than McIlroy. A six derailed Phil Mickelson here on Sunday in 2012 and he finished two outside the play-off. Tiger’s made only one birdie and seven bogeys here since 2009, against four birdies and just two bogeys for Rory.

Rory’s average: 2.888

Field average: 3.257

Tiger Average: 3.300

Rory v Par -2

Rory’s best score: 2 ( Worst 4)

Hole 5: Magnolia, Par 4 (455 yards)

Another intricate and difficult hole for McIlroy, who’s made just one birdie in 18 visits to this devilishly difficult green. He made four bogeys here at the weekend in 2011 and 2012 but four straight pars last April were an encouraging indication that his knowledge of Augusta is paying off.

Rory’s average: 4.222

Field average: 4.050

Tiger Average: 4.207

Rory v Par +4

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 5)

Hole 6: Juniper, Par 3 (180 yards)

McIlroy made his first birdie here on Thursday last year, while he stumbled to a deflating double-bogey five on Sunday in 2009. Otherwise it’s been pars all the way. Not bad, considering Augusta specialists Arnie Palmer and Jose Maria Olazabal have run up sevens on a tricky hole which plays from a high tee to a hugely-sloping green.

Rory’s average: 3.055

Field average: 3.116

Tiger Average: 2.950

Rory v Par +1

Rory’s best score: 2 ( Worst 5)

Hole 7: Pampas, Par 4 (450 yards)

McIlroy really has struggled on this long, arrow-straight hole, which is extremely tight off the tee. The shot into an elevated green, which is surrounded by five bunkers, is treacherous. The Ulsterman’s made two double-bogeys here, six bogeys (two of them in 2013) and just three birdies.

Rory’s average: 4.388

Field average: 4.174

Tiger Average: 4.050

Rory v Par +7

Rory’s best score: 3 ( Worst 6)

Hole 8: Yellow Jasmine, Par 5 (570 yards)

Given McIlroy’s length, being outside the field average here is poor, even if the tee shot is teasing for his ball shape. Still, he played it in three-under last year, including a first eagle on Friday. The blind, uphill second shot clearly tests the faith.

Rory’s average: 4.833

Field average: 4.784

Tiger Average: 4.440

Rory v Par -3

Rory’s best score: 3 ( Worst 6)

Hole 9: Carolina Cherry, Par 4 (460 yards)

This right-to-left hole fits McIlroy’s eye and shot shape very nicely off the tee, while his towering approaches take the sting out of landing on a green that tilts sharply from back to front. Saturday’s bogey last year was his first-ever at nine.

Rory’s average: 3.722

Field average: 4.126

Tiger Average: 3.900

Rory v Par -5

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 5)

Hole 10: Camellia, Par 4 (495 yards)

Rory’s nemesis! This was the scene of a treble-bogey seven which hit him like a Mike Tyson piledriver on Sunday in 2011. Though unlucky when his tee shot cannoned back off a pine bough and in between the cabins, the Ulsterman finds this slalom-steep dogleg left difficult to negotiate. He’s never made birdie here!

Rory’s average: 4.500

Field average: 4.222

Tiger Average: 4.050

Rory v Par +9

Rory’s best score: 4 ( Worst 7)

Hole 11: White Dogwood, Par 4 (505 yards)

At the entrance to Amen Corner lies Augusta’s most challenging hole. McIlroy made triple-bogey on Saturday last year after driving right into trees. Blocked-out, he laid-up to wedge range then splashed his third into the pond. The most recent of his two birdies came on Friday in 2011 but par always is a good score here.

Rory’s average: 3.333 Field average: 4.311|Tiger Average: 3.300|Rory v Par -5

Rory’s best score: 3( Worst 7)

Hole 12: Golden Bell, Par 3 (155 yards)

McIlroy’s record at one of golf’s most bewitching holes is coloured by his four-putt, double-bogey at the height of that Sunday meltdown in 2011, when his brain was fried. His solitary birdie at ‘Golden Bell’ was on Saturday 2012. The second of only two bogeys was on Thursday last year.

Rory’s average: 3.166

Field average: 3.189

Tiger Average: 2.950

Rory v Par +3

Rory’s best score: 3( Worst 5)

Hole 13: Azalea, Par 5 (510 yards)

This dog-leg left should be right up Rory’s alley but his record isn’t as good as one might expect. Tiger’s 13 birdies and no bogeys in five years at ‘Azalea’ trumps the solitary eagle, six birdies and four bogeys by McIlroy in the same period. The youngster’s paid a toll for his natural aggression.

Rory’s average: 4.666

Field average: 4.677

Tiger Average: 4.100

Rory v Par -4

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 6)

Hole 14: Chinese Fir, Par 4 (440 yards)

With no traps and a wide open fairway, the uphill, left-to-right tee shot at 14 is Nirvana for McIlroy … but the contours of the green can make a lottery of ‘Chinese Fir’. Rory’s had four bogeys and three birdies in 18 visits.

Rory’s average: 4.050

Field average: 4.062

Tiger Average: 3.950

Rory v Par +1

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 5)

Hole 15: Firethorn, Par 5 (530 yards)

Prior to Saturday last year, McIlroy had dropped just one shot at Firethorn (a bogey six during his fated final round in 2011). Yet luck deserted him in ’13 when a decent second shot trickled back off the green into water. A chip-on and three putts later, he’d made seven, which may leave scars.

Rory’s average: 4.666

Field average: 4.156

Tiger Average: 4.450

Rory v Par -6

Rory’s best score: 4 (Worst 7)

Hole 16: Redbud, Par 3 (170 yards)

On his Masters debut, McIlroy made two birdies and a double-bogey at this teaser. He chalked up par on 10 of his next 11 trips across the water to the heavily-sloped, well-protected green, before bogeys on Friday and Saturday last year and a final round birdie. Margins are so squeaky tight on 16, it’s a toss-up.

Rory’s average: 3.111

Field average: 3.081

Tiger Average: 3.050

Rory v Par +2

Rory’s best score: 2 (Worst 5)

Hole 17: Nandina, Par 4 (440 yards)

“It’s a tree,” said McIlroy nonchalantly, shrugging off February’s demise of the Eisenhower Tree. Clearly, it was of little significance to a player who finds this hole more straightforward than many of his peers, with four birdies here and just three bogeys, all of the latter in the past two years.

Rory’s average: 3.944

Field average: 4.624

Tiger Average: 4.150

Rory v Par -1

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 5)

Hole 18, Holly, Par 4 (465 yards)

‘Holly’ drove Rory crazy on Friday in 2009. He took two to get out of a greenside trap on his way to an ugly seven, then a stewards’ inquiry that night decided he’d smoothed the sand and didn’t kick it in temper after fluffing his first bunker shot. Yet Rory’s had no further trouble at 18, making birdie on three of his last eight visits.

Rory’s average: 4.000 (Even)

Field average: 4.190

Tiger Average: 4.100

Rory v Par Even

Rory’s best score: 3 (Worst 7)

SUMMARY:

McIlroy’s efforts at Augusta are wildly inconsistent, from a career-best 65 on Thursday in 2011 to an 80 that Sunday.

Nine of his 18 competitive rounds have been below par, four in the 60’s and his average score is more than half a shot better than the field. Yet it’s almost two per round outside that of Tiger over the same period.

Woods, the modern ‘Master of Augusta’ comprehensively outscored Rory on the par fours and, crucially, the par fives in the past five Masters. Tiger was a whopping 41-under for the 80 par-fives he’s played since 2009, while McIlroy played his 72 in 19-under.

The American is just seven-over for the par-fours, against a cumulative 25-over by the Holywood native.

Woods is just one better than McIlroy on par threes but the latter’s well shy of Tiger and other Augusta masters where it counts, on longer, strategically challenging holes!

Rory’s average: Par Fives Played: 72 (-19)

Par FoursPlayed: 180 (+25)

Par Threes Played: 72 (+4)|

Tiger’s average:

Par Fives Played: 80 (-41)

Par FoursPlayed: 200 (+7)

Irish Independent

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