Out of Bounds: Irish down to just one, but it’s Rory McIlroy

Philip Reid’s first Masters was in 1991, and like then there’s only one Irish in the field

“When was your first Masters?”

Normally, it’s a journalist who asks the questions. But when it comes to the Masters tournament, invariably you find yourself on the receiving end. Often, the question is delivered with a mix of envy, coupled with murderous intent.

The answer?

Well, that would be back in 1991 and, if it seems a long time, that's because it is. Ian Woosnam won the tournament that year, holding off Jose Maria Olazabal; it was a time before there was any need of the so-called "Tiger-proofing" of the course, as he hadn't yet arrived on the scene.


That was a year too when only one Irish player was in the field, Ronan Rafferty: he missed the cut and departed with a pair of crystal goblets which was his prize for scoring an eagle three on the Par 5 15th in his second round. It was Rafferty's second but last appearance in the Masters.

Back then, to be honest, you weren’t actually guaranteed any Irish player in the field.

In actual fact, there was a period from 1993 through to 1997 - five successive tournaments - when no Irish golfer participated, a sequence which was only broken in 1998 when the rising star that was Darren Clarke received what was called a "special foreign invitation" to compete. He made the most of it, finishing tied-eighth, and so set in trend an unbroken sequence that has seen at least one Irish player compete for the green jacket in the ensuing years.

That it so far has proven an elusive quest - the only Major to evade Irish clutches, as it were - has not been for want of numbers as, over the past decade, the Irish participation has been as many five (in 2015) but always more than one . . . until this year.

Still, that one, as it were, is a strong one given that it is Rory McIlroy, a man seeking to become only the sixth player ever to manage a career Grand Slam; a man who has top-10s in his last four Masters appearances.

That he is the sole Irishman in the field, though, doesn’t add any extra pressure. Why should it? There’s enough pressure trying to complete the last leg of the Slam without looking for more.

And, as McIlroy himself put it, "it'd be nice to have a few of the other guys here. Padraig. Or Graeme, or Paul Dunne; or whoever it is. But it's a limited field, that's why it is so special to be in the Masters field because it is the toughest tournament to qualify for. Hopefully next year I don't have to answer that question, (that) there can be a few of us here. But, no, I don't feel like there's any more pressure on my shoulders because of that."

McIlroy’s right of course; yet that the question was asked of him at all highlights the absence of others, players who will look at the Masters in the coming days and believe they should be a part of the drama rather than watching on the gogglebox. It’s for them, and in their own hands, to ensure that they’re smelling the azaleas in a year’s time.