Masters week begins as Irish duo eye green jacket
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry take different approaches to Major preparations
2016 Masters champion Danny Willett in his green jacket at Augusta on Sunday. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Once so, so quiet on the Sunday before the Masters, all is changed here at Augusta National Golf Club. These days, it is a like a school outing, but confined only to those children who dress in Ralph Lauren, UnderArmour and G-Mac clothing, and who are able to high-five and to fist-pump, and, most of all, to wield a putter with remarkable poise on the 18th green of Augusta National Golf Club.
Away from the whooping and hollering and photocalls for the youngsters who had won their respective categories, a number of early arrivals for the real deal – stopping to mingle, to sign autographs and to chat before moving on – got on with their main reason for registering: getting to know the course again.
There used to be a tree named after US president Dwight Eisenhower. It stood imperially on the 17th fairway until an ice storm in the spring of 2014 inflicted so much damage that it had to be removed, with no plans yet for any replacement tree to stand in its place.
Eisenhower it was who once observed: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
And the two Irishmen in the field for this latest edition of the Masters have adopted quite different approaches in their planning. As youngsters with stars in their eyes competed in the drive, chip and putt competition that has become a precursor to the tournament, Shane Lowry slipped out yesterday for 18 holes of practice, a first look at the set-up for him this year.
For Rory McIlroy, who paid a reconnaissance visit last Monday and Tuesday, a delayed arrival – on Monday night – to Augusta National is part of planning to deliver the missing link in his quest for the career Grand Slam.
“If I didn’t have a green jacket, there’d be a tiny piece that would just be missing, it really would,” said McIlroy in an espn.com interview when asked if his life was fulfilled, adding: “And yeah, I’d be lying if I said, as a person . . . Yeah, I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t get it.”
McIlroy’s planning has been all his own doing this season, of course. A stress fracture to his rib, which manifested itself during the South African Open, where he lost a playoff to Graeme Storm, caused him to miss scheduled starts at the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour and the Genesis Open on the PGA Tour. In all, the Northern Irishman missed six weeks of tournament play – during which he recuperated from the injury – before reappearing for the two WGCs, firstly in Mexico and then the Dell Matchplay in Austin, Texas.
If that enforced hiatus between competitions was unplanned, at least McIlroy has been able to take matters into his own hands since resuming tournament play. Last week’s two-day advance visit, followed by his decision to delay his arrival back in Augusta until Monday night, are part of a planning strategy that he hopes will deliver the only Major title yet to form part of his curriculum vitae.
As he observed, “I said in a interview when I was eight years old I want to be the best golfer in the world and I want to win all the Majors. I’ve nearly done all of that. There’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”
Lowry’s own planning has been different. The Offaly man returned home following the Dell Matchplay – bypassing the Houston Open, which he has previously used to fine-tune his game – to return briefly to family life with wife Wendy and new daughter, Iris, and only went back Stateside on Saturday.
He drove down to Augusta on Saturday evening, slipping out among the youngsters involved in the drive, chip and putt competition to sample the course ahead of what will be his third Masters appearance. Lowry missed the cut by a stroke on his debut in 2015 and finished tied-39th last year.
With a forecast of severe thunderstorms in the Augusta area for Monday, the prospect is slim for players getting in much on-course work done on the first official day of practice, but the forecast is for an improvement in conditions as the week progresses.
“It looks good for the most part once you get by Monday. Monday’s the trickier day,” said Georgia state climatologist Bill Murphey, who explained that a strong system would sweep through on late Monday morning and into the afternoon, with heavy rain and thunderstorms. Another system, although not as severe, is expected on Thursday, but otherwise it will be “spring-like” weather during the tournament itself, with Murphey anticipating “okay conditions” for the final round.