Wednesday 21 February 2018

Montgomerie: Rory must look forward

Rory McIlroy has been tipped to complete the full majors set at the Masters this week by his former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie if he can blank out his bad Augusta memories.
Rory McIlroy has been tipped to complete the full majors set at the Masters this week by his former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie if he can blank out his bad Augusta memories.

Rory McIlroy must banish his Augusta demons first if he is to savour Masters glory and complete a career Grand Slam at the tender age of 25.

That's the message from his former Europe Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie who feels McIlroy, the world number one, could still be scarred by the memories of his Augusta meltdown in 2011 when he blew a four-shot lead in the final round.

McIlroy carded a closing 80 - which famously included a pull-hooked drive at the 10th which sent his ball off the course - to finish joint 15th and 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel, and the four-time major winner has done no better than last year's tied eighth on his six previous visits to the Masters.

This time the Northern Irishman starts as strong favourite to complete the full majors set but Montgomerie, while admitting that McIlroy is a sure-fire bet to pass Sir Nick Faldo's total of six major titles, admits handling the pressure in a top-class field featuring the fit-again Tiger Woods presents a severe test of his temperament.

"I don't think the task is easy at all, there's a lot of pressure on Rory," said Montgomerie who will be at the Masters commentating for Sky Sports, the only place to watch all four days live.

"You know there's the odd gremlin there, when he lost that four-shot cushion, and I don't think he'll ever stand on that 10th tee with a load of confidence, will he? He can't after what happened at the demise of the back nine from a few years ago.

"Some players like to go back to a scene - like Bubba Watson, Tiger or Phil Mickelson and love that course - and others, like I did in my prime, are not as confident going back somewhere.

" If you look at Rory's results at Augusta they obviously haven't been that of the other three majors, having won them all, so that brings its own pressure.

"But I'm not saying he can't cope with that because he's the best player in the world - and I think all 80 competitors in the field would say that."

Having won the last two Majors - the Open and US PGA titles in an incredible three-week spell last summer - McIlroy stands on the brink of golfing history.

Victory would see him become the sixth player to have won all four major titles after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods and the first European to win a green jacket since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

"When you think Arnold Palmer never achieved a grand slam of majors in his career and he was the king of golf puts into perspective what an achievement it would be," said Montgomerie, casting his gaze towards a possible 'Rory Slam' with the Masters and the US Open at Chambers Bay in June on the horizon.

"Achieving what Tiger did and hold all four at the one time... but if Rory plays to his ability he doesn't have to bother with the leaderboards.

"If Rory can stand on the 72nd green and say to his caddie, without looking at any leaderboards, 'I've played well there', that's good. Well, then he wins. Right?

"So it's up to him to get round this course but there's a lot of good golf behind Rory when you think of Bubba, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed - and, hey, who knows about Tiger?"

Ah yes, Woods. The 14-time major winner has not played competitive golf since withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open on February 6 and said he would not return until he can "compete at the highest level".

Woods has been blighted by poor form and injuries in recent times and the latest world rankings saw him fall outside of the top 100 for the first time since September 1996.

But the four-time Masters winner confirmed on Friday that he will compete at Augusta and Montgomerie does not dismiss the 39-year-old American being a factor down the final stretch next Sunday.

"He wouldn't be playing if he didn't think he could contend," Montgomerie said. "He hasn't entered Augusta to make up the numbers, I guarantee that, and he will be determined to prove to himself more than anyone that he can still do this.

"What is against Tiger is that the standard of major golf now is incredible.

"So Tiger hasn't got to get back to the levels he was at, he has to get back, or forward to the levels that have now been put in place by the number one player in the world."

Woods remains four short of equalling Nicklaus' record of 18 majors and Montgomerie remains unconvinced that he will ever add another.

The Scot asked: "I would like to think there are wins in Tiger yet, but never mind a major, can he win another event ever again? What we've seen this season? No. Nothing lasts forever and he can't keep coming back.

"But imagine Tiger scoring 69, 68 in the first two days at the Masters, there would be a buzz around the place and the sort of electricity we have missed without him.

"Let's hope it's not 75, 76, he's hurt his back and goes home because that would be a disaster for everybody."

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