Golf: Hole-in-one puts pep in Rory McIlroy's Slam quest

Rory McIlroy studying the green at the Augusta National Golf Club on Monday. The world No. 3 boosted his Masters campaign with an ace at the par three, 16th hole during his practice round .
Rory McIlroy studying the green at the Augusta National Golf Club on Monday. The world No. 3 boosted his Masters campaign with an ace at the par three, 16th hole during his practice round .PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Northern Irishman enjoys the perfect confidence boost ahead of the Masters

AUGUSTA (Georgia) • World No. 3 Rory McIlroy tried to have a low-key build-up to the Masters.

He decided against participating in today's traditional par-three contest and deliberately waited until Sunday evening before arriving in Georgia.

But three holes from the end of his practice round with Englishman Chris Wood on Monday and talk of his career Grand Slam bid this week at Augusta National could not be ignored.

The four-time Major winner fired a hole-in-one at the par-three 16th to inspire cheers from the spectators and send chills through his rivals.

"I don't think I've ever heard a roar that loud in a practice round," McIlroy said after draining the 170-yard ace with the swing of his seven iron.

A bigger cheer awaits him on Sunday if he succeeds in becoming the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

The added pressure to win the Masters was already felt last year, after McIlory arrived as winner at the 2011 US Open, the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships and the 2014 British Open.

The Northern Irishman, however, attempted to shift the focus away from him last week.

"This year you have the attention spread between Jordon (Spieth) going back to defend and Jason (Day) winning for a second week in a row and also there's Adam (Scott) who has won at Augusta before and is coming off his back-to-back wins," said the 26-year-old.

"So there's a lot more going on around others competing in the Masters this year already than the spotlight I found myself in a year ago."

Column centimetres have also been devoted to American Dustin Johnson and Swede Henrik Stenson as golf's nearly men attempt to find a breakthrough of their own.

Between them, 31-year-old Johnson and 39-year-old Stenson have won 26 times worldwide. But in Majors, neither has a win.

Stenson has seven top-five finishes in the Majors, while Johnson has 10 top-10 finishes.

"I still feel like my time's coming," said Johnson. "One of these days I will get it done."

Stenson is staying positive too.

"I know I've got a game that fits well for Major championship golf, and you know, I've just got to keep on putting myself in the final groups or in the last couple of groups," he said.

Both are long off the tee and the length of the course suits their games. But the perceived view is that both can be vulnerable with their putting, always a deadly sin on Augusta National's slippery and undulating greens.

Stenson revealed that he plans to be more aggressive off the tee this week, taking the driver out of the bag instead of the three-wood he favours.

"My final round last year, I went more aggressive and that's the lowest score I've shot around here," he said of that four-under 68 round.

"So that kind of put me in that direction."

When he was made aware that an European has not won the Masters since Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, the Swede said with a mischievous grin: "Well, we'll make it happen this year then."

McIlroy would not have it any other way.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


THE MASTERS 2016

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Hole-in-one puts pep in Rory's slam quest'. Print Edition | Subscribe