Friday 22 November 2019

McIlroy listens to words of wisdom from Nicklaus

Rory McIlroy shares a joke with caddie JP Fitzgerald at Augusta yesterday. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP Photo
Rory McIlroy shares a joke with caddie JP Fitzgerald at Augusta yesterday. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy plans to heed the advice of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus as he seeks a first Masters victory to complete a career Grand Slam.

McIlroy recently met Nicklaus at The Bear's Club which is owned by the 18-times Major champion, and got a gentle reminder about the need to keep cool and play the percentages.

It sounds simple, but even the record Major winner occasionally fell into the trap of overplaying his hand at Augusta. He still has a tinge of regret about those instances. This, despite having won the green jacket six times.

Said McIlroy: "Around here, don't take on too much. I had a little conversation with Jack Nicklaus. He said to me, 'I took on too much a couple of times and it cost me a couple of green jackets.' I'm like, well, you have six.

"But he said it's a golf course that can tempt you. It can tempt you into doing a little bit too much."


That reminder hit home. McIlroy had the tournament in his hands in 2011 when he took a four-shot lead into the final round and shot 80.

Four Major victories later, the Northern Irishman has a score to settle with Augusta National, and as he prepares for his ninth Masters appearance, he knows the importance of maintaining discipline.

"If I can make a three on four, and a four on 11 every day this week, I think I'll be okay.

"I think I played those holes in nine over par last year," he said.

The 11th offers a stark reminder that bogey on this course is not a bad result when a player finds himself in trouble.

"I cast my mind back to the 11th hole on Saturday last year where I'm in the pine straw on the left and I'm trying to hit this low hook around and catch the hill and trying to get it up onto the green, and hit this heroic shot, and it goes in the water and I make a six.

"That's the last thing I needed. I was three- or four-over for the day at that point and I needed to hit it to the right of the green, and try and make my up‑and‑down. Even if you make five, five is better than six; take the water out of play.

"Just little things like that where the golf course tempts you to do something. So it's just a matter of being smart, taking your medicine when you have to and moving on," he said.

His rib injury in January curtailed McIlroy's plans for an intensive run into the Masters, but he has worked on his short game and revealed that already he has played 99 holes in practice on the course to date.

"Since I've come back, the two stroke‑play events I played in, I felt I gave a good account for myself. Had a good chance in Bay Hill but didn't quite finish it off. I'm feeling good coming into this week and I've prepared well over the past ten days.

"I played 99 holes in two weeks here, so I've played the golf course enough, I feel. I'm ready to go," he said.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson waded straight into the Lexi Thompson rules controversy and said that some players on the PGA Tour were, at best, careless with how they marked their golf balls on the green.

Thompson was docked four shots last Sunday in the final round of the ANA Inspiration, the women's first Major of the season, for a rules infringement on Saturday.

It came to light when a TV viewer emailed in a complaint to the LPGA Tour.

Yesterday Mickelson pointed the finger at fellow professionals who, he claimed, did not comply with the rules when marking balls.

"I know a number of guys on Tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it," he said.

"I mean, they will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop."

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