The Masters: Legendary coach Harmon casts doubt over McIlroy landing first Major
Rory McIlroy makes no bones about it — the majors, when all is said and done, will define his career.
And he has already demonstrated a supreme aptitude for golf's toughest tests — in eight played as a professional he has already four top 10 finishes to his credit, three of them third places.
Yet in none of those third places — last year's Open and PGA Championships and in the PGA of 2009 — did he ever really put himself in a position to win. And some of the game's top names have their doubts that he can handle himself when the pressure is on in the heat of battle on the Sunday afternoon of a major.
Gary Player, a nine-time major winner himself and an ardent admirer of the young Ulsterman, says he is yet to be convinced that he can handle the situation.
“McIlroy is so talented,” says Player. “I just love the way he plays golf. However, we don't know how he will rise to the occasion if he comes down the line on Sunday and he's leading.”
Butch Harmon, TV commentator and Tiger Woods' former coach, is another admirer of McIlroy, but says his short game is not up to the task of Augusta's notoriously tricky greens.
“Rory hits the ball from left to right so that's the good news,” he says. “But I'm just not sure his short game is of the quality of some of the players. To win at Augusta you have to have enormous creativity and imagination.”
That opinion, though, is met with scorn by none other than six-time Augusta champion Jack Nicklaus, who has tipped McIlroy to go on and win multiple majors.
“It was me who told Rory in the first place when we had lunch last year that I never practised my short game because if I can hit 15 greens a round and hit a couple of par fives in two, and if I can make all my putts inside 10 feet, who cares where I chip it?” he said.
“The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have a short game to win tournaments and it is not the case.”
McIlroy has a long game to match any player in the world and anyone who ever had doubts over his ability to handle the most severe pressure should have had them dispelled by his thrilling maiden European Tour victory in 2009.
He let a commanding lead slip on the back nine of the Dubai Desert Classic, but held his nerve superbly with a desperately difficult bunker shot from the back of the 18th to a couple of feet.
McIlroy admits that he should have added more than just his victory at Quail Hollow last year to his tally of wins and his record in the final round of tournaments when in contention has not been completely convincing.
But what no-one doubts is his supreme natural talent which has already made him a fixture inside the top 10 in the world.
Colin Montgomerie, who captained McIlroy to Ryder Cup success last autumn, says it is only a matter of time before he starts to win on a grand scale. “You sense something a little bit different about some people,” he says.
“Rory has that look about him, has done ever since he turned up on the scene. He is very well set up to achieve big things.”
That's a sentiment matched by Monty’s Ryder Cup predecessor Nick Faldo.
“Rory has the world at his feet. His technique is great, his swing beautiful and he is going along really well,” he says.
And even Harmon concedes: “Rory is a great talent and should one day be Masters champion.”