Rory McIlroy 'bullish' over Masters chances despite Match Play disappointment
Rory McIlroy is “really bullish” about his chances of finally securing the Green Jacket at next week’s Masters, after finishing third in the WGC Match Play.
The Northern Irishman shrugged off the disappointment of his semi-final defeat to American Cam Young – after holding a two-hole advantage with three to play – to beat world No 1 Scottie Scheffler in the third-fourth place play-off at Austin Country Club.
That saw him rise to second in the rankings after his ninth top four in his last 12 starts – including three wins – and left him so eager for his bid at Georgia to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen in the pantheon that he is planning on making an unprecedented second scouting mission to the revered layout before the first major of the season.
“I’m really bullish on where my game is, especially knowing what's around the corner,” he said. “I’ll have a day off, but I'm going to maybe go up to a little place in Augusta, Georgia for a day and mess around. I was already up there last week and I don't think there's any harm in going up again. I feel really good. I’m a lot more confident going into Augusta than I was last year and last year [when he came second] was my best-ever finish.”
McIlroy was all smiles and his good mood had little to do with the $1,435million he collected for his podium finish. “There’s a ton of positives to take away from this week,” he said. “The only disappointment of the week was those final three holes against Cam, but if, after The Players, you’d have told me I’d make the Sunday of the Match Play I’d have taken that.”
The 33-year-old was despondent when leaving Sawgrass with a missed cut earlier this month, despite having finished runner-up in Tampa the previous week. McIlroy took decisive action and ditched his mallet-type putter that he had used – barring the Olympics – for four years and switched to a blade model instead.
He also replaced the shaft on his driver, opting for a shorter version with more whip. He was ecstatic with the results as he made 44 birdies and two eagles in the 123 holes he played.
“I’m excited about how things are now compared to this time a couple weeks ago,” he said. “I drove the ball a lot better this week compared and I felt pretty good with the putter, better each day, and holed some nice putts.
“So for the first week out I thought both ends of the bag worked pretty well. Augusta has become more of a driving course as the years have gone on and it didn’t used to be, but approach play is still the big key at Augusta and I felt like I hit my irons and wedges well this week. I don't think anything is in bad shape, so I’ll just keep it ticking over and work on the shots that I need.”
Taking down the best player in the world in the round immediately before a major is, of course, a confidence boost, regardless of whether it was a “consolation” match. “It’s good to get one over Scottie,” McIlroy said. But Scheffler is, himself, full of self-belief he prepares for the mission to become the fourth player to defend successfully the Masters title, after Sir Nick Faldo, Woods and Nicklaus.
“At the beginning of the week, I didn't feel like I was hitting my putts as solid and as the week went on, but that improved and I was hitting a lot of quality,” Scheffler said. “Yeah, I have a couple things to work on before Augusta, but there’s definitely plenty of confidence going in.”
Scheffler had his own commanding advantage in the semi-final, at two up with six to play over Sam Burns. But his friend fought back to go through on the third extra hole and then proceeded to thump Young 6&5 in the final for the $3.5million first prize.
Up to 10th in the world, Burns is a huge contender for his first major. “Can’t wait to be there,” he said. “But first I need to rest. Seven rounds in five days… I could fall down on the ground and go to sleep right now.”