Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy played in a practice round together ahead of The Masters
Butch Harmon assesses Rory McIlroy’s hopes of completing golf’s career Grand Slam at The Masters and looks at whether Dustin Johnson can defend his title.
One of the things we love about Rory McIlroy is his transparency, as he lets you know exactly how he feel and he always tell it how it is. You have to admire his honesty in interviews, even if it can be a slight fault sometimes.
He admitted his chase for extra speed and distance was influenced by what Bryson DeChambeau achieved at the US Open, something I was surprised he admitted publicly. There are a lot of players that would not have admitted this when it was not working out for them.
McIlroy is without a major victory since 2014
He is going to Augusta National with the focus as much on his swing as well as his latest bid to complete the career Grand Slam of majors. McIlroy will again be asked about that in his pre-tournament press conference, and of course it’s a big thing.
Rory has been working with Pete Cowen and I think that’s probably because his long-time coach, Michael Bannon, has struggled to get into the United States to spend as much time with Rory as he needs to. Pete is one of the best coaches on the planet, always has been and always will be, so he is in good hands.
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The difficulty for McIlroy, especially heading into a huge tournament like The Masters, is the trust factor. You have to trust the changes you are making and accept that change takes time. Bad shots are often part of the process and that is something tougher to handle in a big event.
We will have to wait and see how it works out at Augusta. We all know that Rory is one of the best players in the world and has been for some time now, and Pete is a great coach, so I like the combination. Will it work? We will find out soon enough!
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Rory has shown glimpses of his best in recent weeks but the inconsistency in his game has held him back. When you fall short of your high expectations and standards from tee to green, it puts more pressure on your short-game and your putting. And, of course, any shortcomings in your putting are exposed at Augusta National.
Sometimes it can look like you are not putting well, wherever you are playing, but when you have got extra pressure on yourself it can really get to you. Putting well at Augusta is such a huge factor because of the size and speed of the greens.
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You have got to be on the money with your lag putting as well as making enough birdie putts, and your short-game in general needs to be sharp to have a chance to contend. When you factor all this in, I think Rory McIlroy may be a little under the radar, but he will have extra pressure on him for a number of reasons.
Can Johnson go back-to-back?
DJ has got a short memory, nothing bothers him, least of all being the defending Masters champion for only five months! Back in November, he broke the scoring record at Augusta National, shot 20 under and won by five after playing phenomenal golf. He was completely in control.
Johnson could lose his world No 1 spot this week at Augusta National
He has only played six tournaments since then, one of them being a win at the Saudi International, but you do not have to worry about DJ at Augusta. He is always ready to go when he shows up and he probably has the greatest demeanour of anyone in majors right now.
He just goes about his business and any bad shots are like water off a duck’s back. He just goes to the next shot and hits it. DJ has got fresh memories and good vibes from just a few months, so he has got to be the favourite going into this week.
McIlroy said last year that DJ is “smarter than you think” and Rory is right. When it comes to golf, DJ is a genius. You look at how he has matured over the years, and long gone are the days when he would hit driver off every tee saying: “I’m just sending it bro!”
He has been so in control of his game for the last few years now, he’s matured tremendously as a Tour player, his short-game and wedge game have improved, he drives it great, and he’s been an amazing golfer for some time. DJ has that priceless ability to put everything behind him.
Johnson is a two-time major champion
The other thing DJ did so well at Augusta last year was to stick to his strengths, and that’s the way to play there. Sergio did the same back in 2017. We have seen a number of players trying to adjust their game believing you must be proficient in hitting big high draws if you want to be successful at the Masters.
Yes, being long off the tee at Augusta is a good thing, as is taking advantage of the par-fives if you can put it in play from the tee. But too many people do not realise that Augusta is a second-shot golf course. Because of the severity of the slopes on the greens, coupled with their speed, it means you often need to avoid taking dead-aim at the flags.
You need to find the slope that will take the ball down towards the hole, or just leave yourself a comfortable two-putt – if there is such a thing there! You have to be so precise with your approach play, and distance control with the irons is critical. That is way more important than what shape of shot you are hitting, and it’s not talked about enough, in my opinion.
There are so many factors than just being able to hit draw after draw off the tee, if you are a right-hander of course. Jack Nicklaus was predominantly a fader of the golf ball and look at what he achieved at the Masters. DJ stuck with the fade, his “go-to” shot, and it paid off.
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