McGinley: Rory needs to know when to fold 'em at Augusta
Tactics will be crucial to end Masters heartache
Rory McIlroy will have his pal Harry Diamond on the bag for the first time at next week's Masters Tournament.
But for Sky Sports pundit Paul McGinley, the single-minded Co Down man could just as easily do with country star Kenny Rogers, warbling out a few bars of his classic hit 'The Gambler' if he's to overcome his biggest Masters challenge: course management.
After laying down a huge marker by leaving an elite field for dead with that electrifying final round 64 at Bay Hill less than a fortnight ago, McIlroy's timely "reminder" of his enormous talent will serve for little if he doesn't play smart.
"It's like the song says," McGinley said in a teleconference promoting Sky Sports' coverage of the Masters. "You have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em."
Extremes Capable of producing the extremes of scoring, McIlroy has had as many disastrous runs of holes as purple patches at Augusta, as he showed in 2011, opening with a 65 and building up a four-shot lead before getting caught in a stampede and shooting 80 on the final day.
He hasn't contended on the back nine on Sunday since that fateful afternoon and McGinley believes that's all down to decision-making on the course that offers more options than any other.
"One of the things that makes Rory very charismatic is he plays so aggressively, and sometimes that counts against him," McGinley said.
"Jack Nicklaus, who I have spent time with a couple of times since I've worked with Sky, is very clear that it's a golf course you have to play quite conservatively in a lot of ways. Jordan Spieth also said the same thing.
"You have got to pick your moments to attack. So I think it is a strategic thing, a course management thing. What Rory has learned over the years is that there are times when you just don't attack. There are times when you have to play away from pins to the centre of greens. There are lots of opportunities to be aggressive but you have to listen to Nicklaus who has won six green jackets there. He was adamant on that."
McIlroy doesn't much care for putting from long range on Augusta's ice-rink quick greens, which have changed utterly since Nicklaus was in his pomp. But McGinley has a point when it comes to his decision-making - it's time to make nine previous Masters appearances count for something.
"It is getting that balance right," McGinley said. "That's what great champions have done over the years. And that's what the statistics illustrate. Obviously the par-fives, with his length, that's when you have to take the shackles off and go for the golf course."
Whether he knows when to fold and when to hold his cards remains to be seen. But McGinley sees no way out for McIlroy when it comes to shrugging off the burden of history.
Only Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen have completed the career Grand Slam and if McIlroy is to join that exclusive club, there's no easy way out.
It's been suggested that Woods coming back and the likes of Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson eating up the coverage in the US can somehow help him slip under the radar but McGinley can't see that happening.
Any noise that's bothering McIlroy is inside his own head. "There's a reason why only four or five have won it, and that's because it is a very difficult thing to accomplish," McGinley said of the career Grand Slam. "He's on the edge of history.
"There is a weight of expectation on his shoulders, and he is going to have to embrace that pressure and learn to deal with it."
McIlroy hasn't contended on the back nine since 2011 and even then he was reeling. "The biggest thing for him is getting into contention," McGinley said.
"Since he had that 80 in the last round in 2011, we haven't really seen him in the shake-up. But if he gets in contention, hopefully, the fireworks can happen the way they did at Bay Hill."
Whether McIlroy provides them or not, McGinley feels that pyrotechnics are guaranteed.
"In my memory, it is probably the most exciting Masters ever in terms of so many guys showing form and so many guys capable of winning on a golf course we all know so well."
Asked if a Woods victory would be the greatest in golf since Nicklaus triumphed at the age of 46 in 1986, he didn't sound so sure.
"I personally think he's heading in the right direction, but I don't know if he's ready to win that Major yet."
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