Can Rory McIlroy snare the one Major that still eludes him? The 25-year-old Northern Irishman may have bagged the three other in golf’s grand slam, but as he heads to Augusta National for the US Masters, it’s the full set he craves.
Expectations are as high as the Georgia pines, but Ian Woosnam, who won a Green Jacket himself in 1991, has a word of caution. “Come on, Rory is still a young kid, he’s only had a few goes at it! He’s got the perfect game to win at Augusta – he hits high and long with a draw – and I can’t see it being long before he does. If not this year, then soon.”
According to Woosnam, the secret to Masters success is “hitting good long irons into decent positions on the right side of the greens and pins. People who come to Augusta for the first time can’t believe how hilly it is. You stand at the clubhouse and it goes down at least 500ft to the 13th tee, so you have to be patient. All Rory will want to do is be in the hunt in the last nine holes. You can be three or four behind and win.”
McIlroy enjoys superstar status these days, with all its pressures. His personal life is forensically scrutinised, and he was in a protracted legal dispute with his former management company that cost him a reported £13 million. Luckily, with lucrative sponsorships as well as his golf earnings, the boy from Holywood, Down, is a multimillionaire.
When Woosnam won 24 years ago, he bagged $243,000.
This year’s winner will take home not far short of $2 million. Is golf in danger of losing its soul to big bucks? “Golf isn’t football,” says Woosnam. “We have to pay our caddies and our expenses, and if you don’t make the cut you don’t make any money. Mind you, some of these guys now have physics, trainers, psychologists. They’re splashing out five grand before they start.”
Talking of psychology, it’s by no means certain that Tiger Woods will be continuing his hunt for a 15th Major at Augusta. Battling a spectacular loss of form, the four-time Masters champ has embarked on a sabbatical to try to get his mojo back. “I absolutely think he’s doing the right thing,” says Woosnam. “He’s got so much going on in his head – all these theories and teachers – his brain is scrambled. At one time he was like an immortal, now he’s realised he’s human, and the cracks have appeared. He has to heal those over somehow.”
At least Woosnam will be there. An annual invitation to Augusta is the privilege of past champions, and for the man who won his one and only Major there, it’s a date on the calendar he relishes, even if he does chortle affectionately at the club’s arcane rituals, from the Green Jacket presentation — “They didn’t have one to fit me, I had to borrow someone else’s”– to the overly formal Champion’s Dinner. “Really, I just wanted to have a few pints with my mates after I won, but I had to sit down to eat with all the jackets and ties.”
I bet he wouldn’t mind doing it all again, though. He laughs. “These days it’s more, let’s try and make the cut. That’s my battle.”