Bob MacIntyre may have arrived in the US a few weeks back at the start of an exciting run of events as a relative unknown to PGA Tour followers, but the 24-year-old has certainly made an impact on golf’s American audience.
His profile was raised on Uncle Sam’s soil when a video clip of him holing a backwards chip on the iconic 17th green at TPC Sawgrass during a practice round for The Players Championship last month went viral.
MacIntyre then gained more admirers when he topped a group that included world No 1 Dustin Johnson to advance to the knock-out stages in last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas, achieving that feat by hitting a 375-yard drive at the closing hole at Austin Country Club to around two feet.
“He sure has played some good golf the last year,” acknowledged North, winner of the US Open in both 1978 and 1985, as he talked about the young Scot in a media conference call in his role as one of ESPN’s golf analysts for the 85th Masters at Augusta National.
“The fact that he’s been able to come over here and feel comfortable, I think that’s important. Sometimes that’s not the case. Gosh, he’s a talented player.”
MacIntyre will be making his debut in the opening major of the season, having already tied for sixth in The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019 before making the cut in both the US PGA and US Open last year at Harding Park and Winged Foot respectively.
With left-handers having fared well at Augusta National in the past 20 years, this is another big opportunity MacIntyre is relishing and rightly so, but both North and Strange urged a note of caution about expectations from a first-timer. The last player to claim a Green Jacket in MacIntyre’s position was Fuzzy Zoeller back in 1979.
“Your first couple trips around Augusta are a little bit scary. You’ve seen it. You’ve watched it. I don’t care who you are, it’s not easy to get around Augusta when you’re first trying to figure it out,” said North.
“So it will be an interesting week for him. We’ve seen these guys do very, very well there first time, but they usually don’t. Hopefully, he can figure it out and get a good game plan, and go out there and play some good golf.”
Concurring, back-to-back US Open winner Strange said: “I don’t care how old you are, but the first couple trips around Augusta National you’ve got to get over the awe feeling, the shock and awe feeling of Augusta National.
“Then it’s about learning the nuances of the golf course, where to hit it, where to not hit it, where to miss it, when to go, when not to go, speed of the greens. Just all of the above.
“Now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. But somebody in their first couple of times around there has to be really, really playing well and putting well to overcome some of those little intangibles that you learn from experience there.”
In contrast to MacIntyre, McIlroy is already an old hand when it comes to The Masters, which he needs to win to become just the sixth player to complete golf’s career grand slam.
In recent years, Strange in particular has been bullish about the Northern Irishman’s chances of securing that missing jigsaw piece but not this time around due to McIlroy’s game having gone off the boil since he started to try and keep up with US Open champion DeChambeau in the power stakes.
“With Rory’s ability, he is one swing thought away from shooting 65 every day and I don’t think he’s that far off,” said Strange, who landed his US Open victories in 1988 and 1989.
“It seems like to me he went after distance. He’s admitted that. It messed him up a little bit. Now he’s got to go back. How long it takes him to get back to a comfort zone, only he knows, and maybe he doesn’t know.
“Currently, he’s only hitting 57 per cent of the fairways. He’s 148th on tour. That’s enough said. At Augusta National, the margins for hitting the greens from the middle of the fairway are tough enough when they get firm and fast. From wayward angles and a little bit of rough makes the margins even much, much tougher than an ordinary golf course.
“I think he’s got to drive a little bit better, although statistically he’s never been a good driver with the golf ball. Augusta fits his game. He’s so talented. It’s amazing to me that he hasn’t won here yet. I certainly expect him to, but this year, he’s going to have to find something quickly, to be quite honest with you.”
McIlroy recently added the vastly experienced English coach, Pete Cowen, to his team after admitting that his “swing issues” had stemmed from seeing DeChambeau overpower Winged Foot, one of the toughest tests in the game, to land his US Open win last September.
“Why did he chase something that may not have been necessary, distance?” added Strange. “You've got to remember Rory is 5ft 10lb, 165lb, and he’s chasing a guy, potentially DeChambeau, who's out there doing this experiment, who’s 6ft 1in, 240lb.
“So that in itself seems kind of odd to me. Rory was plenty long enough, plenty capable, and really, quite frankly, has a whole helluva lot more talent than most people on tour. So why?”