Rory McIlroy has praised Séamus Power’s “amazing achievement” in breaking into the world’s top 50 as the Irishman bids to secure a Major championship debut in the Masters.
Power has finished fourth, 15th and third in his three most recent starts on the PGA Tour, with last week’s performance in the Sony Open lifting him to a career-high 49th in the world rankings.
If the 34-year-old from Waterford can remain inside the top 50 until the March 28th deadline, he will earn a coveted place in the field at Augusta National, where McIlroy will be seeking the victory required to complete the career Grand Slam.
Power will contest The American Express event in California this week while McIlroy begins his 2022 campaign in Abu Dhabi.
“Séamus has done it a very different way than a lot of us have done it in terms of going to college in the States and then basically staying over there and doing everything on the PGA Tour,” McIlroy said.
“But he’s done fantastically well. He’s played really well the last six months, he’s really excelled and he’s in the top 50 this week, which is an amazing achievement.
“There’s so many avenues or ways to do it, but for him to do it on the toughest tour in the world and the deepest fields, he’s done it the hard way, I guess.
“I remember playing the Munster Under-15s with him so I’ve known Séamus for going on 20 years at this point. I’m happy for him, happy that he’s playing so well and it will be great to see him play in some of those bigger events this year.”
The American Express features a pro-am format for the first three rounds on three different courses, with the top 70 professionals then contesting the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West.
Graeme McDowell gets his 2022 campaign underway in a tournament where Si Woo Kim is aiming to become the first player since Johnny Miller in 1976 to successfully defend the title. But the South Korean faces stiff competition from the likes of world number one and 2018 champion Jon Rahm.
Four years ago Rahm finished second to Dustin Johnson in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, skipped the following week's Sony Open and then beat Andrew Landry in a playoff for what was then called the Career Builder Challenge.
The Ryder Cup star will be hoping the same approach pays dividends this year after finishing runner-up to Cameron Smith in the Sentry and taking last week off.
Philip Reid’s American Express Championship Lowdown
Purse: €6.7 million (€1.2m to the winner)
Where: California, USA
The course: There are three courses used for the first three rounds of the pro-am format – the PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club and PGA West Nicklaus Course – which traditionally see low-scoring from the professionals. The Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course – 7,147 yards Par 72 – will play host to the final round.
The field: Headed by world number one Jon Rahm, the strong field also features a number of players – among them Will Zalatoris and Rickie Fowler – making their first appearances of the year. Patrick Cantlay, the world number four, who closed with a 61 a year ago in finishing runner-up to Si Woo Kim returns for another crack at the title in a tournament hosted by PGA champion Phil Mickelson.
Irish in the field: Graeme McDowell is alongside Francesco Molinari (playing La Quinta, 4.50pm Irish time); Séamus Power is paired with Kevin Tway (playing the Nicklaus Course, 6.0pm Irish time).
Quote-Unquote: "I feel like I usually play my best golf in little spurts and it's usually not the first week out" – Scottie Scheffler dampening expectations before a ball is hit.
Betting: Jon Rahm heads the market as 11-2 favourite with Patrick Cantlay (15/2) seen as his main danger. . . in-form Séamus Power is a 28-1 shot . . . while Russell Henley, who lost out in a playoff in the Sony Open, is a 33-1 shot to bounce back from that disappointment.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5pm.