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  • Alistair Tait

Can McIlroy miss at the Masters?

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Whisper it quietly: Rory McIlroy might never win the Masters. He might join a select club who never got to slip on a green jacket.

Johnny Miller never did. Neither did Tom Weiskopf, Curtis Strange, Ernie Els, David Duval, Ken Venturi, Nick Price, Tom Kite, Greg Norman or Bert Yancey.

Bert Yancey? We’ll get to him.

Barring an absolute miracle, Rory won’t win this year’s Masters. He’s set for his 12th straight year of coming up empty at Augusta National. Fourth in 2015 is his best effort, depending on what happens today.

Who’d have thought we’d have reached 2020 without McIlroy winning at least one Masters. Remember when Darren Clarke said:

"I think he knows he'll win there someday if he just keeps doing what he is doing. He has to win sometime. If he doesn't win at Augusta this year, he'll win next year. If he doesn't win next year, he'll win the year after.
“He's going to win there some time. His game is perfect for there. It's only a question of when. He's that good."

That was six years ago, and Clarke wasn’t saying anything out of the ordinary. He was only saying what all of us thought.

Phil Mickelson reiterated Clarke’s assertion this week. He said:

“The guy is as complete a player as there is, as well as smart, knowledgeable and works hard. So he'll win and complete the Grand Slam. He's too great a player not to.
“He has so many majors already and such a strong game that winning a Masters will happen. And when it does, I think he's going to win a few.”

At age 31 we’d all like to agree with Mickelson, but fair play to Rory for his response to the three-time Masters champion. Rory said:

“Nothing's given in this game. … You have to go out and earn it. You can't just rely on people saying that you're going to win one. Greg Norman never did. Ernie Els never did. There are a lot of great people that have played this game that have never won a green jacket. It's not a foregone conclusion, and I know that. I have to go out and earn it and play good golf.
“I think nowadays, with how many great players there are, I need to play my best golf to have a chance.”

That last line is most telling. Rory is no longer king of the castle. His huge advantage was how far he hit it, the fact he had another gear he could slip into that rivals didn’t. Not so much now. There are too many players who can now do what Rory does best. Collin Morikawa proved it at the PGA Championship. Bryson DeChambeau did, too, with his six-shot U.S. Open victory. Dustin Johnston has proved it through three rounds this week.

Greg Norman found out that there are no guarantees in golf. He should have won at least one Masters, especially the 1996 edition. He may have done so if he hadn’t been paired with Nick Faldo in the final round.

It’s hard to believe Els never donned a green jacket. His game seemed better suited to Augusta then the Open Championship or U.S. Open, yet all he has to show for 18 Masters missions are two second places finishes.

Duval, Strange, Kite and Price were all dominant players in world golf for spells yet never won. Price set a course record 63 in 1986, and has four top 10s. Kite had three second place finishes from his 12 top 10s. Duval was second in 1998 and 2001, and third in 2000. Strange would have won the 1985 Masters if not for finding water at the 13th and 15th in the final round. He, too finished second.

Weiskopf had four runner ups. Miller three. They just happened to have been in their pomp when Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros were in theirs.

Venturi finished second in 1956 and 1960. He took a four-shot lead into the 1956 Masters when he was still an amateur. He blew up with a final round 80 in shades of Rory’s 2011 closing 80 after taking the lead into the final round. Venturi said it took him eight years to get over that Masters meltdown

Yancey? The seven-time PGA Tour winner was so obsessed with winning the Masters he built clay models of Augusta’s greens so he could study them at home. It didn’t help. He finished third in 1967 and 1968, and fourth in 1970.

McIlroy will get many more attempts to get his arms in a green jacket. Just don’t be surprised if it never happens.

P.S. I hope that doesn’t come true.

#You can’t always be playing well when it counts. You’ll never win golf tournaments until you learn to score well when you’re playing badly.” Jim Barnes

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