So says Colin Montgomerie, who was proved right to be bullish about McIlroy making it two majors in a row – the Northern Irishman was at the peak of his form when following up his Open Championship win at Royal Liverpool last summer by quickly adding the US PGA Championship at Valhalla – but seems less confident about him prevailing on this occasion at Augusta National.
It’s not that the eight-times European No.1 doesn’t believe McIlroy can claim a Green Jacket at the age of 25. Along with Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke, he reckons at least one of those will be hanging in McIlroy’s wardrobe before he’s done and dusted in the game. What is different to the scenario when the world No.1 headed into the last major, though, are the additional factors he’ll have to try to handle.
“There’s the odd gremlin there obviously,” noted Montgomerie of McIlroy squandering a four-shot lead in the final round of the season’s opening major four years ago. “And, if you look at his results at Augusta, they haven’t been what they are in the other three majors, having won them all.”
It was on the tenth, where his tee shot ricocheted way left off a tree and ended up between the cabins that separate the main course from the par-3 course, leading to a triple-bogey 7, that things really began to unravel for McIlroy in 2011. Six shots were lost in three holes on his way to a closing eight-over-par 80 as South African Charl Schwartzel claimed the title.
“I don’t think he’ll ever stand on that 10th tee with a load of confidence,” added Montgomerie, pictured below, who will be at Augusta commentating for Sky Sports, the only place to watch all four days live. “To be honest, he can’t after what happened following his demise on the back nine from a few years ago. It isn’t easy. People like Bubba [Watson], Tiger [Woods] and Phil Mickelson love that course. Others go back, like I did in my prime, and don’t feel as confident as in other places.”
McIlroy is bidding to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win all four majors. Montgomerie picked out one other name to underline how enormous achieving that feat would be, though, at the same time, also trying to emphasise that McIlroy is likely to be facing more pressure this week than ever before.
“When you think Arnold Palmer never achieved a career grand slam – and he was the king of golf – that puts into perspective what an achievement it would be,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Rory. Expectation in anything is hard, but to achieve something in golf when you are expected to win is a difficult task because it’s just you and the ball out there. He’s well good enough to win this Masters, definitely. My God, he’s the best player in the world. But I think the task, as opposed to being easy for Rory, is actually quite difficult.
“It’s immense, in fact, as there’s a lot of good challengers. I think Jordan Spieth is a potential winner. Remember, he walked off that seventh green last year on the final day two shots ahead with 11 holes to go, so he knows his way around. Adam Scott [the 2013 winner] is back with his long putter and that might be just what he needs to gain some confidence going back there.
“Bubba Watson [the defending champion and winner twice in the last three years] knows his way around, Dustin Johnson is back again – a power-hitter as well – and let’s not forget Henrik Stenson, either. He’s playing the golf of his life, No.2 in the world, and he’s right on Rory’s tail.”
No matter what happens amidst the azaleas at the weekend, Montgomerie is convinced it will only be a matter of time before McIlroy topples Nick Faldo as the best of British. “It would be tough for him to say but, at the same time, I’m sure Nick himself would agree that Rory, with four already and having a chance to be the youngest ever to achieve the career grand slam, will win more than six majors in his career and therefore become Britain’s most successful golfer,” he said.
However, Montgomerie, who captained McIlroy in his first Ryder Cup – at Celtic Manor in 2010 – believes the game’s current superstar still has work on his plate to reach the same dizzy heights as the one he’s replaced, Woods, hit in the peak of his career.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see the dominance that Tiger had in the year 2000,” predicted Montgomerie. “Winning the US Open by 15 shots and the Open by eight was just incredible. Rory has won the last two majors and let’s hope for British and European golf, that he can do something that has only been achieved once in the modern era. But, at this moment in time, the competition is now so severe that any lapse at all and there is someone willing to take up that baton. That wasn’t the case with Tiger. He had this dominance that Rory hasn’t yet. Rory is working on it and he’s working very well. But he hasn’t got the dominance yet to say that he’s going to win, and win, and win. We’d love him to, of course, and he might well do that.”