Rory McIlroy has a chance to do something special at the 2019 Masters Tournament.
He knows it. You and I know it. And come Thursday, everyone from the rolling hills of Augusta, to your local sports bar will glance at a leader board at some point and wonder, “What did Rory shoot today?”.
There’s palpable buzz around Rory, the betting favourite, heading into the first major of the 2019 season. But it’s not solely because he enters the tournament as the hottest golfer on the planet. It’s because he has a shot at making golf history.
There are certain achievements in this sport that are held in another regard. They’re loftier, more difficult to achieve. They’re the kind that stand tall in the record books for decades, looking on as countless names ultimately fall short after entering that rarified air.
Rory has a shot at completing the career Grand Slam.
A win at Augusta would mean Rory has won each of golf’s four major championships in his career, something only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods have done in the modern era.
You can bet it’ll be on his mind when he takes that drive down Magnolia Lane before Thursday’s opening round.
Rory’s got a U.S. Open, an Open Championship and two PGA Championship titles under his belt, but it’s the iconic green jacket that has continued to elude him.
Yes, Rory’s had a checkered and well-chronicled history with Augusta National. He’s come incredibly close, but so far has yet to win on those hallowed grounds.
This year, however, he has a chance to flip the script. This might be the best chance Rory’s had of slipping on that green jacket come Sunday—and here’s (a few reasons) why:
HIS STATS ARE EYE-POPPING. If it were actually a stat, Rory would lead the Tour in Strokes Gained-Leads the Tour this season. That’s to say, he’s been dominant across the board in several key stat categories that bode well for a run at Augusta.
Rory, who’s gamed an M5 Driver throughout his entire 2019 campaign, leads the Tour in both Strokes Gained-Off the Tee (+1.308) and Strokes Gained-Tee to Green (+2.415). He’s also the leader in Strokes Gained-Total (+2.741). He’s been putting himself in great position to score all season and, most importantly, is capitalising on those chances.
With its undulating fairways and famously tricky greens, Augusta National is known as being a golf course that rewards the second shot. With the way he’s driving it, Rory’s +.753 Strokes Gained-Approach the Green per round, good for 12th on Tour, is another strong stat he’ll lean on.
Rory will look to put himself in scoring position with a true mixed set of irons this week. He’s carried a P·790 UDI 2-iron, P·750 irons (3 & 4) and P·730 irons (5 through 9-iron) with him all season. He also sports a 48-degree MG Wedge and two MG Hi-Toe Wedges (54° & 60°).
HE HASN'T FINISHED OUTSIDE THE TOP-10 SINCE JANUARY. Read that again. That’s nearly three months of consistent, high-level play, which, if you’ve ever seen Rory hit a golf ball, can be incredible theater. His consistency paid off big time at TPC Sawgrass, when he captured The PLAYERS Championship with a memorable performance.
HE TRADITIONALLY PLAYS VERY WELL AT AUGUSTA. Say what you will about Rory’s close calls at The Masters, but he’s treated the course like his own personal playground throughout his career.
He’s finished in the top-10 at the tournament each of the last five years. In those five appearances he is a cumulative 23-under par, the third-best mark of any player (h/t @JustinRayGolf). Since 2010, Rory has beaten the field scoring average 25 times, which is the second-highest mark of any player this decade (h/t @JustinRayGolf).
Understanding, and correctly reading, the contours of Augusta’s greens comes with experience, and Rory’s resume proves he has plenty of that. He’ll look to keep his Spider X putter dialed in this week.
There are 10 players that finished their careers one major shy of accomplishing the career Grand Slam. There are three active players who still have a chance of accomplishing it. Rory is one of them. He’ll have plenty of shots to finally get over the hump and win The Masters in what will likely be a long career, there’s no doubt there. But will it be this year? We’ll have to wait and see. But history, and recent form, are certainly on his side.