Confident Rory McIlroy gearing up for final Masters prep

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry has put a new putter in his bag for the WGC-Dell Matchplay

Rory McIlroy: “I haven’t had the win that I’ve wanted, but it’s been good consistent play and that hopefully bodes well for the year ahead.” Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy: “I haven’t had the win that I’ve wanted, but it’s been good consistent play and that hopefully bodes well for the year ahead.” Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy returned to number two in the official world rankings after the Arnold Palmer Invitational but a different set of numbers truly reaffirmed his recuperation from the rib stress fracture that disrupted his early season.

In Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill, the Northern Irishman unleashed four drives over 360 yards in distance. The longest drive of all measured 383 yards which, especially at sea level, was proof if needed of the player’s return to fitness and ability to swing the club without inhibition.

In what will be his last outing before a tilt at next month’s US Masters, McIlroy will get another test of his physical wellbeing in the WGC-Dell Matchplay at Austin Country Club.

One of the bespoke presents given to each of the 64 players competing in the championship is an electric guitar, but McIlroy will be aiming to play to a different tune out on the course where the winner will have to successfully come through seven rounds in five days.

A previous winner of the championship , in 2015, McIlroy is the number two seed – behind Dustin Johnson, seeking to win a third straight tournament having claimed the Genesis Open and WGC-Mexico championship on his last two outings – for the championship and has managed top-10 finishes in each of his tournaments since returning to competitive duty. McIlroy finished tied-seventh in Mexico, where he led at the halfway stage, and was tied-fourth behind Marc Leishman in Bay Hill.

McIlroy is ranked first in two statistical categories on the PGA Tour, in strokes gained tee-to-green and in proximity of his approach shots.

In mapping out his itinerary in the run-up to Augusta, McIlroy’s rehabilitation from injury forced a rethink. It meant he missed intended starts at the Dubai Desert Classic and at the Genesis Open, but in both outings since resuming play he has contended and there would now seem to be an intent to raise the stakes moving on towards Augusta.

Consistent play

“I haven’t had the win that I’ve wanted, but it’s been good consistent play and that hopefully bodes well for the year ahead,” said McIlroy.

Just as Tiger Woods always emphasised the importance of “reps,” as he put it, playing with a scorecard in his pocket is important to McIlroy.

“It’s just nice to get to play again and get to feel like you’re playing a run of events, and looking forward to getting to Austin and getting back at it at Matchplay. Obviously, it’s a different format, but you’re still competing, it’s still a great way to get ready [for the Masters],” said McIlroy, who will skip next week’s tour stop at the Shell Houston Open.

Only two Irish players have made it into the field for the WGC-Dell Matchplay, with McIlroy joined by Shane Lowry.

The Offalyman – playing for the first time since the birth of his baby daughter, Iris – has some good figures of his own on the stats front, ranked fifth in greens-in-regulation and number one in scrambling from the fringe.

In an attempt to get some heat into his putting, Lowry has put a spider putter in his bag for the matchplay. Like McIlroy, Lowry has also decided to skip next week’s tour stop in Houston and will return home following the matchplay for a few days before flying back stateside for the Masters.

Graeme McDowell’s world ranking wasn’t sufficiently good enough to get him into the field for the matchplay in Austin, so he has opted to play in the Puerto Rico Open. He is also in the field for next week’s Houston Open, where he will have a last-gasp chance to make it into the field for Augusta when a win – and only a win – would suffice to earn the last ticket to the Masters.

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