Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Master McIlroy targets Augusta

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is contemplating a quick trip Down Under as he chases a place in next April’s Masters at the Augusta National.

The 19-year-old has shot up to 63rd place in the world rankings after his joint fourth place finish at the Singapore Open at the weekend.

And if he can force his way into the top 50 by the end of the year, an invitation from the men in green blazers will be on its way to his Holywood home.

McIlroy is playing in the Hong Kong Open this week and is heading to the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South Africa Open Championship in December and if he continues his recent form in those three events, he won’t be far away from a place amongst the game’s elite.

At present he is planning on a two-week break after Hong Kong but if manager Andrew Chandler thinks it’s necessary, he will join Darren Clarke at the Australian Masters in Melbourne next week.

McIlroy became the youngest-ever player to win more than €1m in prizemoney with that finish in Singapore but more importantly rose another 17 places on the official world rankings.

Since missing out in the play-off for the Omega European Masters in Switzerland in September, he has had five top ten finishes in his last seven tournaments, breaking into the top hundred in the world for the first time in the process.

Despite that good run he just failed to make it into the top 30 on the European Tour Order of Merit which would have gained him a

place at next summer’s Open Championship.

But if he breaks into the top 50 by the end of the year and continues his upward climb, he will qualify for Turnberry, the other two Majors and the three World Golf Championships in any case.

Padraig Harrington, back up ahead of Vijay Singh at number four in the world, has no such concerns and is packing his clubs away in the garage for the year.

Harrington has every chance of winning Player of the Year awards on both sides of the Atlantic in the coming weeks.

The Dubliner's back-to-back victories at The Open and US PGA Championship make him a shoo-in for the European Tour award, while he and Tiger Woods vie for top spot in the hugely prestigious annual players' poll in the US.

Woods played just seven tournaments this year but won five of them, while his victory in June's

US Open at Torrey Pines must rate as one of the most astonishing in Major championship history.

Tiger somehow overcame the pain of two stress-fractures and a ruptured ligament in his left knee that week – but hasn't played since undergoing reconstructive surgery days after the event.

Harrington appeared to trump Woods when he brilliantly defended The Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale and then became the first European golfer to win two successive Majors with a splendidly defiant display of his own at Oakland Hills and another brilliant closing round.

However, the Irishman was pitched straight into the cluttered FedEx Cup play-off series, followed by the Ryder Cup, leaving him with precious little opportunity to recover momentum before the end of his season.

Harrington once again looked the part in Singapore at the weekend but a couple of unlucky breaks late on would leave him tied for second with Ernie Els, one behind Jeev Milkha Singh.

Including last month's Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, Harrington has now finished second 33 times in 13 years as a pro. Given his subdued form this autumn, don't be too surprised if the Dubliner also has to settle for runner-up spot to Woods in US's Player of the Year poll, unfair though that might be.

Tiger's efforts in the first half of the year, when he won more money in seven outings (€4.035m) than Harrington did in 26 (€3.612m), certainly were spectacular.