Rory McIlroy's fantastic win at Bay Hill has seen him installed as the new favourite for the Masters. But Ralph Ellis says he still has questions to answer.
"Rory hit a 373-yard drive at the 16th – and all the bits are in place for the Masters which remains his Holy Grail. He’s now the [10.0] favourite to win the one tournament he most craves to complete a career Grand Slam."
"I kept telling everyone I was close, but nobody would believe me" said Rory McIlroy after ending 539 days without a trophy by waltzing off with the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Well, guilty as charged. I wrote him off as a Masters contender at the end of February and merrily laid him - at the time he was third favourite for Augusta - with thoughts of easy money.
Now it looks as if I could be heading for a sweaty couple of weeks because he's got his mojo back. While we were all watching the Tiger Woods comeback story, McIlroy has produced a renaissance of his own.
It all boils down, it appears, to a chat with former pro and now putting guru Brad Faxon who gave him a lesson at the start of the week. "More of a psychology lesson," was how the Northern Irishman described it. "He just encouraged me to be more instinctive rather than getting bogged down with mechanics."
Ghosts of 2011
It worked. Before last week McIlroy was 124th in Strokes Gained for Putting on the PGA Tour, at Bay Hill he was first in the same stats - and for good measure rolled in a huge putt on the 18th to seal his three-shot victory over Bryson DeChambeau.
Add that to his long game - he hit a 373-yard drive at the 16th - and all the bits are in place for the Masters which remains his Holy Grail. He's now the [10.0] favourite to win the one tournament he most craves to complete a career Grand Slam.
I still haven't lost hope of making the easy profit I'd planned, however, because there will still be one thing holding him back, and perhaps it will take another psychology lesson to solve that. His problem at Augusta has always been that he wants it too much.
The ghosts of that final round collapse in 2011 will always haunt him until he finally collects a Green Jacket. He can never go to Augusta without being reminded of it. He will always be playing under pressure there as a result.
Can he still be instinctive in his putting if he's got a 20-foot birdie chance on the final green to win that tournament? It's the big question he has to answer.
New Matchplay favourite
Of course Rory fans will say that he's just proved he can play under pressure by getting over the line at Bay Hill. But I'd argue that wasn't the case - when he began his phenomenal charge of five birdies in the closing six holes he was pretty much out of contention so the pressure was off. He got on a roll and enjoyed it and by the time he had to even think about winning the tournament it was already done.
Would he stay so relaxed at Augusta? Would the demons of 2011 come back to his head if he and say, Dustin Johnson, were neck and neck in the last few holes?
We will see how his game is placed for a duel this week in the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay, for which he has now been installed as [9.2] favourite. The likes of Johnson[10.5] and Justin Thomas [13.5] are also in form.
Win that and even I'll start believing - and getting ready to write off my losses.