Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Irish pain just part of Europe’s tale of woe at Masters

The presence of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter high up on the weekend leaderboard disguised the fact that this has been yet another wretched Masters for the European contingent.

And no one went away unhappier than the Irish, who saw all three representatives slink off home a couple of days early.

It’s been 11 years since Jose-Maria Olazabal claimed his second green jacket, and with it, an 11th European win in 19 years.

With eight Europeans in the world’s top 20, they were at Augusta in their droves this year and yet only eight of them managed to make the cut, including amateur Matteo Manassero.

Sir Nick Faldo, winner of six Majors, including three Green Jackets, has accused the current generation in the past of making too good a living on tour to be competitive enough to win the Majors.

Clearly, that’s not the case with Rory McIlroy, who was so disappointed in his weak displays on Thursday and Friday, that he immediately announced he was taking three weeks off the circuit to get to the root of his problems on the course.

The young Ulsterman has been struggling for form all year and by his own incredibly lofty standards he has slipped from when he forced himself into the world’s top ten.

Rounds of 74 and 77 were not the scores expected of a player who closed with last year’s thrilling run of birdies to end up in a tie for 20th.

But the week of a Major championship is not the time to be trying to rediscover form — and the Augusta National is just about the worst place in the world to attempt it.

There’s not, though, that much wrong with McIlroy’s game that a few sessions with coach Michael Bannon down at Bangor won’t correct. That and a couple of scores in the mid-sixties back on the more comfortable ground of the European Tour.

This year’s Masters was set up perfectly for Padraig Harrington to add Major number four to his collection.

Unlike McIlroy, he did take recent good form with him and as this was his 11th Masters, he knows the place about as well as he’s ever going to.

With his all-round game and skill on the greens, he should have a much better return than three top ten finishes.

As for McDowell, he needs now to concentrate on preserving his place in the top 50 in the world rankings to guarantee a place at June’s US Open.

That’s something he should accomplish easily enough and he says now that he is starting to feel as though he belongs at the Majors and World Championships.

He is a player who has the game to turn it around and go on to win one, but apart from leading after the first day of the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake, he has yet to demonstrate it.

For all three, the importance of getting off to a solid start at the Majors is the lesson of last week. Harrington proved with his three Major victories that it’s where you are at the end of day four, not day one, which is paramount, and there is a certain truth to that.

But his two over par opening 74 and McDowell’s effort of 75 put them under too much pressure to make the cut.

Friday’s weather was the worst of the tournament when the pins were in the toughest spots imaginable — and that’s when the three Irishmen needed to turn it on.

Last year McIlroy finished the European Tour season with a stroke average of 69.5 — generally two to three below par for every competitive round he played.

So far this year he has struggled to break par at all, never mind 70 and that’s been the big difference.

Winning Majors will get harder, not easier, now that Tiger Woods is back in the equation — and his presence has been blamed for the relative lack of European success at the Majors over the past decade or so.

Two of Harrington’s successes came while Woods was out injured.

But it wasn’t just Harrington and the Ulstermen who were found lacking.

Much greater things were expected from German Martin Kaymer and Spain’s Alvaro Quiros, Englishmen Ross Fisher and Paul Casey, the underachieving Sergio Garcia who made the cut but came second last.

Not, then, a vintage year.

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