Rory McIlroy has the look of a master
It’s 25 years since Jack Nicklaus pulled off the most astonishing victory in Masters history but Fred Couples brought those stunning memories into clear focus yesterday as he leapt into contention with a remarkable second round 68.
At age 50 and with his aching back creaking almost as loudly as a rusty bedspring, Couples once again defied the march of time at August National and at least kindled hopes that he may be able to pull off what he reckoned would be “the greatest miracle in golf history” tomorrow.
Though just one off Geoff Ogilvy’s early clubhouse lead on five-under, Couples has been around professional golf much too long, however, to engage in idle fantasy.
And as Holywood youngster Rory McIlroy raced to double-figures under par by playing the first nine holes of his second round in three-under yesterday, Couples candidly admitted: “He was my pick at the start of the week.
“I love the way Rory plays and he certainly has the game for Augusta National. Looking at that scoreboard right now, he looks as if he’s going to be very hard to beat.”
If McIlroy is playing mind-blowing golf at present, Couples certainly is not far behind him on the seismic scale at Augusta — the only shot he dropped yesterday came at the treacherous par three 16th, where he three-putted from distance.
Couples, who won four times following his graduation last year onto the Seniors Tour, feels so at home at Augusta that he rates it as “probably the only event that I am capable of winning on the main tour these days.”
Needing shots in his aching back to get through four rounds at last weekend’s Shell Houston Open, he compared the persistent pain to a toothache. Yet the 1992 Masters Champion was relying on the Augusta galleries to help carry him through the pain barrier at the weekend.
One man unlikely to have that chance was Padraig Harrington, who was headed for his fourth missed cut at The Masters after failing to rediscover his usually deft putting touch on yesterday’s second round.
While Harrington’s efforts on Thursday were stymied by a neck muscle strain picked up as he swung a club left handed on the range beforehand, the problem had cleared sufficiently for him to dispel any doubts about starting yesterday’s second round.
“I will play. Why wouldn't I?,” said Harrington on arrival yesterday morning. “There certainly was a reason not to play yesterday but it is not an option today.”
Yet he was not prepared to place blame for Thursday’s opening 77, his equal-worst round at Augusta National, on the injured neck or the fact that he had to play with his head titled to the right.
“My short game was poor and I putted badly,” he confessed, a problem which persisted into Harrington’s second round, even after he changed his pre-shot routine. He abandoned his recent policy of taking three practice swings over the ball on the 14th green on Thursday and once again took them to the side of the ball yesterday.
“I misread every green (on Thursday),” he said. “I certainly was looking at them with my head tilted, so maybe that is why I misread all the greens. That could have been it. I did putt badly and I chipped badly.”
The trademark smile of Alvaro Quiros did not flash as often at Augusta National yesterday as it did on Thursday, when he’d posted a superlative first round 65 to claim a share of the overnight lead with McIlroy. Yet the engaging Spaniard still achieved his primary ambition as he made the weekend at The Masters for the first time in three attempts on six under, one over for yesterday.
Quiros, 28, hits the golf ball further than anyone else this week but it’s quick wit an self-effacing charm which has really won hearts and minds at Augusta.
The most striking example of this was his wonderfully blunt dismissal of comparisons between his game and that of Spanish genius and two-times Masters champion Seve Ballesteros.
“Seve had the hands of an artist, while I have the hands of a bricklayer,” said Quiros with a shrug after explaining that his ultimate aim is to develop the more subtle skills he will require if he’s ever to be a true contender for the Green Jacket.
This working-class hero from a small village near Valderrama on Spain’s Costa del Sol had never seen Augusta National, even on television, before driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time in 2009.
“When I was growing up, Spain was not a golf country and the only people who could watch the sport on television were those who had pay TV,” he explained. “Coming from a poor, average family, we could not afford that.”