Wednesday 21 March 2018

Outsider's victory offers hope to Irish stars in pursuit of Masters title

Rory McIlroy walks off the 18th green after after his final round of the Masters golf tournament on Sunday. Photo: Chris Carlson/AP
Rory McIlroy walks off the 18th green after after his final round of the Masters golf tournament on Sunday. Photo: Chris Carlson/AP

Liam Kelly at Augusta

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry can take encouragement and inspiration from Danny Willett's sensational Masters win.

Time is on the side of the two Irish players, despite the pressure on McIlroy to join the hallowed ranks of Masters champions.

Such is the level of his success with four Majors on his golfing CV before the ripe old age of 26, McIlroy faces huge levels of expectation from media and the golfing public.

Add in his own expectations and the knowledge that the course should suit his game, and no wonder he felt the strain.

Lowry's case is different. He needs to keep qualifying for the Masters and learning the tricks and nuances of the so-called Cathedral in the Pines.

But coming away from the tournament on Sunday night, both of them had to be thinking: 'If Danny Willett can do it, so can I.'

No disrespect to Willett is implied. The 66/1 outsider shot 67 and availed of the unexpected opportunity afforded him by Jordan Spieth, who had a classic Masters back-nine-on-Sunday meltdown.


McIlroy (pictured) spoke after his 71 and one-over par 289 (tied 10th) about the internal factors which he believes hold him back in the Masters. "I was in great spirits going into Saturday in the final group and only one shot behind.

"Any momentum I had was kind of killed on Saturday. I didn't play well at all. I didn't play my game which is being aggressive and attacking.

"I played tentatively, but that's what this place can do to you. It was a tough weekend and I can't say anything other than that really. It's just disappointing," said McIlroy.

A four-time Major champion clearly has everything it takes to win a Green Jacket in terms of technique, and McIlroy knows where improvement is needed if he is to claim a career Grand Slam.

"I need to be better mentally. Out of every tournament in the world that we play, this is the one where I feel a little different from the others for obvious reasons, and I just need to learn how to control that better.

"I don't think anything in my game is holding me back, I think it is more the mental challenge of coming here to try and do something I have never done before, and knowing the scale of that achievement.

"That's what I need to deal with better. I didn't do it this week but hopefully I can improve that as the years go on," he said.

Shane Lowry earned a special crystal bowl as a memento of his ace at the par-three 16th, but after his opening 68 on Thursday, the graph went downward for him, scoring 76, 79, 75 for tied-39 on 10-over par (298).

"I hit a great shot. I've hit plenty of great shots this week. There are a lot of positives to take from this week," he said.

"That's one of them, and it will be nice to have that hanging in the house, a photograph of 16 and knowing that I had a hole in one there in the final round of the Masters.

"I'm a little bit disappointed with where I finished and in the position I was in with two rounds to go, it's not great.

"I'm not going to shy away from it: I do feel I could do well around here. I showed it for quite a while this week.

"It's definitely a course that suits me. I drove the ball well, my iron play was good, I just needed to sharpen up around the greens and it could have been a better week. It's frustrating at times but it is so enjoyable.

"There is no better place to play golf in the world. I was lucky I was able to do it this week and hopefully I can do it again next year," added Lowry.

Jordan Spieth now has questions to answer from within following that dramatic collapse, losing a five-shot lead after nine holes and finishing three behind the winner.

The 12th hole quadruple-bogey seven gutted him and started his slide into eventual defeat.

"I can't imagine that was fun for anyone to experience, other than maybe Danny's team. And those who are fans of him," said Spieth.

"At one point I told Mike (caddie), I said, 'Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing'.

"And I wanted to be brutally honest with the way I felt towards him, so that he could respond with what was necessary to get us to rebound. And we did.

"It was very, very cool what the patrons here did for me. And they almost brought me back into it.

"But, yeah, of course we're going to fight back, you know. There's no give up in us. We tried, but it just was one bad swing," said Spieth.

The 2015 champion had to present the Green Jacket to the winner and sit through the speeches and closing ceremonies. He handled it well.

"As you can imagine, I can't think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience. Obviously happy for Danny.

"More important than golf, he's had a lot of really cool things happened in his life. Like he said, maybe fate had it this time for him. I certainly wanted to control fate, myself," said Spieth.

Irish Independent

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