By Brian Keogh
Paul McGinley. Photo by Golffile
Paul McGinley sees confidence and putting as the biggest obstacles to Masters glory for Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry and tipped “Mad Scientist” Bryson DeChambeau to find the winning formula at Augusta National.
The Dubliner believes the world No 5 can put November’s indisciplined Masters performance behind him and claim the coveted green jacket.
With McIlroy looking to go in a new direction with coach Pete Cowen and Lowry still hit and miss on the greens, McGinley sees DeChambeau’s iron play as a big threat to favourites such as defending champion Dustin Johnson, new father Jon Rahm, the in-form Justin Thomas or PGA champion Collin Morikawa.
“I really think this guy is the best thing I’ve seen in professional golf since Tiger Woods,” McGinley told RTE Radio’s Greg Allen. “This guy is more than one-trick pony of just hitting the ball a long way.
"He leads the par-three scoring average on the PGA Tour this year and that’s gone under the radar a bit and shows you this guy who’s got control of his iron play.
“That’s the key stat you look for in a guy who is going to perform well around Augusta and he’s going to rate very highly — if not first then second or third for strokes gained approach.
"Yes. he played very poorly in November and didn’t raise a gallop at all but I think he got his strategy wrong he became too aggressive around there and I think we are going to see a different Bryson.
“I think we are going to see a more measured approach from him and a different strategy and how he is going to go about it.
“One thing we know about this guy is he is bright and we also know about this guy is that he learns and I think he will have licked his wounds after his poor performance in November and come back with a different strategy.
“There’s a time to attack Augusta but there’s also a time to be measured and play it from the fairways and I think that’s what we’re going to see you from him. That’s why I really think that he’s going to be a factor.
Bryson DeChambeau. Photo by Golffile
As for McIlroy, he doesn’t rule out a rapid turnaround for the Holywood star under Cowen but feels Masters pressure makes that unlikely in the short term.
“It’s quite a big seismic change and what we do know with Rory is he’s not a technical golfer, nowhere near what Bryson would be. And whatever Pete does, he has been able to coach different players in different ways. I really hope what he does with Rory is done in a very simple way. It’s not broken that badly. It can’t be broken the bad. There’s been a lot of good golf so like a lot of these players it is in the mind; in the confidence.
“When Rory gets validation with results, his comfort, his confidence level goes from 4 or 5 to 9 out of 10 very quickly. Whether he can do it under all the pressure that he is at Augusta, trying to become only the sixth player to complete the grand slam in the history of the game that’s the big, big ask. I think we may have to wait a bit longer before we see that igniting but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out in McIlroy.
As for Lowry, McGinley worries about his streaky putting.
“The putter has such a big effect,” he said. “The standard of golf is so good at the top of the game now and if you are a mediocre putter you were going to get lapped. Unfortunately, that’s where Shane is at. If he can find that putter, if he can find something that works — a claw grip or a left over right or right over left or whatever it is — yes he’s going to be a factor. We all know he has the heart if he gets in contention to get over the line and potentially be a Masters winner but the key for him is going to be the cutter in particular.”
Augusta National was firm for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and while some rain is forecast later this week, McGinley believes the course will be very different to the soft conditions that prevailed in November.
“Initially they were saying no rain though there’s a 40% chance of rain and when it rains in Augusta really does rain so that changes. Certainly Rory would be one you would really fancy if the golf course becomes really soft but at the moment it’s a slight chance of rain but a firm golf course. On a firm golf course is the opposite of what we saw in November when it was soft. So a firm golf course means the ball is bouncing into the rough and you’re trying to get on greens that are kind of firm so the whole thing changes.
“So I think the set up of the golf course will be a big factor depending on what the weather gives us. But I’m a big believer in form as well and I think that Dustin Johnson and Bryson are the two I think I’ve got the skill sets to win around there and they’ve got the form coming into it and they’ve got the hard to get over the line.
“At this moment in time with the weather conditions and a golf course where iron play is going to be key they are two guys that stand out for me.
Rahm could also be a factor after his wife Kelley gave birth to a baby boy, Kepa Cahill Rahm yesterday - banishing fears of being called away to the delivery suite during the Masters.
Dustin Johnson. Photo by Golffile
As for Johnson, the defending champion, the world No 1 has struggled to find his best form with the driver in recent weeks and that’s a concern for his coach, Claude Harmon.
“I think he has been off the boil his coach Claude Harmon is a bit worried about that too he certainly lost his driving which is a strength of his game,” McGinley said. “He spent two days with TaylorMade. They brought the big truck down to his home club specially to find a driver for him.
“He said he drove it pretty well in the matchplay but he was never really a factor. But these guys come in and out of form we talk about Rory at the moment at the bottom of form. But there’s only one way he’s going, he’s going to ignite and he’s going to come back at some stage. And it’s the same with Dustin Johnson. They don’t hold it steady. The quality of golf he played for six months prior to that was such a high level. Yes, he’s gone off the boil a little bit and I’m sure that’s going to be a bit of a worry coming in because confidence is key.
“All of these guys are so good when they’re on their A-game. Dustin Johnson we know can ignite. He is going in with probably not a huge amount of confidence compared to where he was maybe four or five weeks ago. The big key for him is getting off to a good start and building his confidence.”
MORE MASTERS STORIES FROM GOLFDIGEST.IE: