Three down, one to go.
The first shot at a career grand slam, but in a tournament, and on a course that Rory McIlroy has had so many ups and downs on in the past.
He’s a 7/1 favourite to be wearing a green jacket this Sunday night, and even the return of Tiger Woods doesn’t seem to have lessened the media storm around him.
His Masters career is chequered, and notably remembered for his complete meltdown when he entered the final round four shots clear, before finishing in 15th place, having shot an eight over par round of 80.
Tomorrow afternoon will be the mark his seventh appearance at the Masters, so we’ve looked back through his performances over the last six years, to find his strengths and weaknesses at Augusta National.
Driving distance, and greens in regulation
McIlroy was a tie for 8th at last year’s tournament, and only Jordan Spieth hit more greens in regulation. He found the target on 52 of the 72 holes, working out at a very impressive 72.22%. Much of this was down to his driving. Although he was quite far down the list in terms of accuracy (22 players were better), his supreme length off the tee (averaging 304 yards) meant he was in a position to choose a shorter club, and get onto the green safely. More of the same this year, and he’ll give himself every chance of posting a good score.
While the Augusta greens are notorious, surviving is more important that prospering. While he was in the bottom half of the field for putting in the 2014 installment, he only had two three-putts in the whole tournament. Indeed, a stat in today’s Racing Post shows that the last Masters winner to be in the top 100 putters on the PGA tour, in their respective year, was Angel Cabrera in 2009.
The par 5s
Only today, McIlroy’s playing partner Phil Mickelson said that poor play at the 15th in Augusta probably cost him another few green jackets on top of the three he’s already won.
McIlroy has had no such problem at that hole, in fact it’s been his most profitable. Out of the 22 times he’s played the hole, he’s picked up a birdie on half of those occasions, and despite bogeying it twice, and hitting a double there in 2013, he’s still working out at seven-under par on that hole alone. He’s been six-under in total on the second hole, five-under on the thirteenth, and even his worst par five, hole number eight, has seen him five-under.
In total, he’s 21-under for the longer holes, and given his considerable driving distance, these will, once again, be his big scorers over the four days in Augusta.
Improving as he goes
McIlroy was tied 40th in 2012 after slumping to a four over par round of 76 on the final day, but for the last two years he has been improving drastically.
In 2013 and 2014, he finished higher up the leaderboard, making the top 25, two years ago, before his level par finish, 12 months ago, left him inside the top eight. Now, he looks ready to target the top of the leaderboard and banish the demons of 2011.
Not only has McIlroy been improving over the last few years at Augusta, he been learning to improve as the week moves on. His average score on the final round at Augusta had been 75.3 over the course of the 2009, 2011 and 2012 tournaments. His last two trips to the Masters have seen him finish strongly, hitting three-under par final rounds of 69 in each of the last two years.
Holes 10, 11 and 12 are probably as notoriously difficult a trio as you’ll get in major golf, and they’ve taken sizeable chunks out of McIlroy’s ego down the years. Even before the nightmare six-over par for those three holes during the infamous final round in 2011, they were causing him difficulty, and they’ve long been a source of frustration for him since.
In particular, the 10th hole is one that catches McIlroy out, year on year. In his 22 times playing the hole, he’s never once managed to birdie it, dropping a 7 there in 2011, a double bogey in his second round last year, and hitting seven other bogeys, leaving him with a combined score of 12-over par for that hole alone.
His combined total for these three holes after the turn is a whopping 21-over par. Considering his impressive form at holes eight and nine (he is a combined nine-under par on them), that trio of holes absolutely kill his momentum heading into the back nine.
The par 3s
There aren’t many players who come through the Augusta par threes smelling of roses, but you’ll be a happy man if you get through them without smelling of anything.
While he’s had an impressive amount of birdies on the par threes down the years, his focus needs to be more on not dropping shots, rather than picking shots up.
He has found himself with a double bogey on each of them, and while his cumulative total isn’t awful at eight over par for the 88 times he’s played an Augusta par three, safety should be his number one priority, given his ability to pick up scores on the par fives.