Monday 16 September 2019

McIlroy on right track despite appearances, says former guru

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty

Dermot Gilleece

Among the many who came to Augusta National hoping to witness a Career Slam from Rory McIlroy was his one-time putting guru, Dave Stockton. It was Stockton's first tournament this year due to knee replacement surgery and he was especially anxious to observe McIlroy's progress under Brad Faxon.

Stockton and McIlroy go back quite a way. Back, in fact, prior to 2012 when the Holywood star became world number one.

It was a time when I referred to Ben Hogan's greatest strength being that he had no weakness. And turning to McIlroy, I argued that he probably had the best swing in golf, but did he putt well enough?

The answer back then was that he most certainly did. This was confirmed by his performance in capturing the 2012 Honda Classic, in which he missed 24 greens and got up and down on 20 occasions.

All of which was attributed to his work with Stockton. And as Tom Watson always maintained, the essence of successful scrambling is that you must be a good putter.

His first two rounds in pursuit of an elusive green jacket have told a very different story. Out of 16 greens missed, he got up and down to save par on only seven occasions. Which left him languishing at tied 56th in the scrambling statistics.

It is some time since McIlroy parted company with Stockton but the twice former PGA Championship winner bears him only goodwill. "I watch Rory religiously on TV and for the most part, I like what I see," he said. "He's definitely on the right track."

Then came the surprise acknowledgement: "I'm glad he's working with Faxon, because Faxon's thoughts on putting are a lot like mine. I just don't think Rory should be mechanical. He should be fluid and from the looks of it, that's what Faxon has been telling him.

"I'm happy for him. Obviously I had good success with Rory when he won four Majors. I know what's good for him and to me, he looks like he's on that path, and that includes the mental stuff he's coming out with.

"He's the one I'm rooting for this week, and if the Slam doesn't happen this time around, I hope he gets it over the coming years."

Stockton then turned to the special challenge presented by Augusta National, describing it as a course containing specific par and birdie holes. There are certain holes, he claimed, on which you have to be very careful, singling out the 505-yard 11th as one, which McIlroy happened to bogey in his opening two rounds.

"Even the first, for instance, is not as easy as it used to be," he continued. "Consequently, the holes you can go at are the par-fives - 13 and 15 are the most fun holes to watch. You can have three- and four-shot swings there. And you can attack the short 12th."

He concluded: "People are going to make a lot of birdies around here, but you've got to avoid silly mistakes."

McIlroy's biggest problem has been in failing to recover from those errors.

A classic case in point was his play of the 11th in Friday's 71, when he bunkered his approach and then took two shots to recover from the sand. Earlier, he had hit a fat pitch into sand on the long second and came away with another bogey, this time at an obvious birdie hole for him.

In fact, he was level par on Friday for the par-fives which, for a player of his length, was a minimum of two too many, especially after an eagle on the eighth.

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