Bizarre 2020 may actually suit McIlroy

Bizarre 2020 may actually suit McIlroy

Rory McIlroy watches his shot out of the rough on the 15th hole during a practice round for the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

IT JUST doesn't seem right. The Masters epitomises the arrival of spring. That it is being played as winter knocks on the door is just another twist in the mind-melt that is 2020.

Saying that, in a world that will see All-Ireland hurling and football finals in December, this is far from the only peculiarity we now have to accept in the world of the 'new normal'.

The time of year is not the only oddity of the 2020 Masters. And it's not just the fact that the stunning azaleas won't be blooming along the fairways, we will also be missing the 'patrons' and those wonderful roars that echo around the course, especially on the Sunday, when someone makes their move on the leaderboard. The silence will probably be the most alien aspect of this weekend's experience.

Despite it being November, temperatures are not expected to be too different from an April Masters. The problem is that rain and lightning storms are also predicted, so we may end up with delays and a changing course, depending on the amount of rain that falls.

Early reports from the course has the grass seemingly thicker than usual and that chips to the green may be more in vogue as players avoid runs through any long stuff. The lack of spectators will play it's role too, along the pathways, and making the roughs, as much as you have roughs in Augusta, more complicated. Pine straws and other debris will not be stamped down by the feet of the fans at least.

The hot favourite, going into the weekend, has Bryson DeChambeau already picking the menu at the winner's dinner next year. His impressive dismantling of the course and opponents at the US Open at Winged Foot back in September has many backing him to power his way to the Green Jacket this week. DeChambeau drives his ball further than anyone else on the circuit, and 400+ yard drives are a big advantage in Augusta. He is not bad with the putter either, once on the green. But to get there may be the only weak spot in DeChambeau's play at the moment.

Wayward approach shots to the greens have ended many a brave challenge at Augusta before. Making up yards on the fairway is one thing, completing approach-shots to the right sections of the glass-like surface of an Augusta green is another.

Accuracy in the approach is key here. In the Masters, an error of inches can see you end up 50 yards away from the hole. And DeChambeau is ranked only 157th on the PGA Tour rankings for proximity to the hole of his approaches last season. Even if he gets it on to the right spot of the green, one wonders will his famous meticulous preparations be affected by Augusta National's rule that bans green-reading books. Unlike other tournaments, this requires a measure of freelance, on-the-spot improvisation, from the competitor which might not suit someone with the nickname of 'The Scientist'.

Still, if anyone can work his way through these handicaps, then the scrupulous DeChambeau is still your man.

Mallow's James Sugrue hits out of a bunker to the second green during a practice round for the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Picture: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Mallow's James Sugrue hits out of a bunker to the second green during a practice round for the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Picture: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Home eyes will be looking closely at the young Mallow man James Sugrue, who made his dream start at a Masters last night as the reigning British Amateur champion. If social media is anything to go by, he has been making friends and influencing people in Georgia over the last few days and the only shame is that his family could not witness his adventure in the flesh, with him, due to Covid restrictions.

The favourite from an Irish perspective is, of course, is Rory McIlroy. The Down man has an understandable love/hate relationship with Augusta. It is a course, many believe, is ideal for McIlroy's game and the only question has been why hasn't he won a Green Jacket already?

Augusta has seen McIlroy play his very best golf and has witnessed his greatest meltdowns. The media hype around McIlroy has magnified the disappointment of his setbacks in Georgia. Each year without a jacket added another thick layer of expectation the following April.

This year, McIlroy comes into this a bit under the radar regarding media expectations. He's been kind of written off mainly down to his indifferent form since the first lockdown was lifted in May. Even his Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley reckons McIlroy would be a “surprise” winner at Augusta.

But maybe in this upsidedown world of November Masters, with no spectators, no media hype, and the weight of expectation lifted from his shoulder, it just might be the perfect scenario for the Holywood man to have a Hollywood finish.

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