The Masters 2012: a sense of déjà vu prevails as Augusta bites golf’s latest poster boy Rory McIlroy once again

April 8th, 20126:17 am @


This Masters tournament was meant to be a two-horse race. Well, to be accurate
it was never any such thing. But sport’s reductionist tendency caused us to
see this major as a clash of the generations between McIlroy, 22, and Woods,
36, who was stepping out of the long shadow of a 2½-year barren spell.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot as a player over the last 12 months,” McIlroy
had said.

Unfairly or not, his chaotic front-nine on a pristine blue-sky day is bound to
revive memories of his stumble last year, after which he reflected: “I came
out and was trying to be this player that I’m not. I was trying to be
ultra-focused, tunnel-visioned. I’m usually pretty chatty and quite relaxed
about the whole thing.”

He shot 71 and 69 on the first two days this year to put himself in
contention. But on Thursday and Saturday he took a combined 12 strokes to
sink the ball at the first when the card says he ought to be able to do it
in eight.

McIlroy was five over for the day and finished 10 shots behind the leader
Peter Hanson. An analyst would be tempted to ask whether his first-tee
mental preparation has been right. Maybe there is still some worm of anxiety
eating away at him after the upset of last year.

That implosion was spectacularly corrected, of course, by his US Open victory
at Congressional, in which he became the youngest champion since Bobby Jones
in 1923, and graduated from there to become world No 1, briefly. This is
McIlroy’s fourth Masters appearance. All past champions say it takes years
to devise a strategy to play the Augusta National course. Thus it is far too
early to say that Augusta will not be one of those stages where the young
Northern Irishman dazzles.

Yet his early experiences yesterday will leave its scars. Two of his last four
Masters rounds (the Sunday last year and yesterday’s) have given him cause
to reflect on the unique difficulties of a course that looks so pretty but
has a talent for disfigurement.

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