The Masters 2018: Can we already rule out Rory?

A look of concern on Rory McIlroy's face as he hits a tee-shot last week
A look of concern on Rory McIlroy's face as he hits a tee-shot last week
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Ralph Ellis looks at the struggles of Rory McIlroy as he prepares to chase his dream of a career Grand Slam at the Masters in six weeks time.

"This week at the Honda Classic where he is [13.5] third favourite behind Rickie Fowler [10.0] and Justin Thomas [12.5] has become pivotal."

For we amateur golfers, it's a feeling you get used to. You hit your best ever drive, follow it with a great approach, and then completely stuff up with the putter.

Hey-ho. You curse yourself a bit, have a laugh with your playing partner, then move on to the next tee. No big deal.

When you are Rory McIlroy, number 10 in the world and with genuine belief you can get back to number one, though, it's a different matter.

And it is hard not to think having seen him go exactly through that scenario at Pebble Beach, when he turned an eagle chance into a five-putt double bogey, that he remains a long way from putting his complete game back together.

For McIlroy the holy grail remains the Masters, the one Major he's never one, the tournament he most wants to add to his collection to complete his career Grand Slam.

But it is rushing up on him for yet another year - just six weeks away now - and for all that he is third favourite at [11.0] to be the winner it is already time to write him off.

Winning these big tournaments is all about consistency, and McIlroy isn't showing any of that.

It is now nearly 17 months since he won a trophy, the longest drought of his professional career. He's pain free at last after the injuries that caused him so much trouble last season, but it's clear the amount of time missed and the disruption to his normal practice schedules is still having a negative effect.

He's still capable of producing brilliant shots, of course, as he did with a couple of eagles in the Genesis Open last week. But in the middle of that is too much erratic stuff that will keep him consistently close to contention but never get him over the line.

It was no coincidence that his best round last week was on the final day, shooting a 68 with birdies on the two closing holes, when he was already well out of it. Basically, he's okay playing with the pressure off.

This week at the Honda Classic where he is [13.5] third favourite behind Rickie Fowler [10.0] and Justin Thomas [12.5] has become pivotal. If he can't put something consistent together at a course a few miles down the road from his Florida home, with all the comforts of his own bed every night, then where else can he recover some for for Augusta?

You can't blame him for trying to talk himself up. "I feel like I played better than where I finished," he said of last week.

But to briefly switch sports that feels a bit like a Paul Lambert press conference: "Delighted with the lads, can't criticise them, great effort, we go again." The truth is that over four days your finish tends to reflect exactly how you played.

Only a fraction over half of the greens in regulation, over 72 holes, is not the performance of somebody who is about to start winning trophies again. It's the score of a man searching for his form, and lost in that two great shots, one horrible routine that we mere mortals know so well.

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