Rory McIlroy trouncing highlights golfer’s struggles before Masters


Rory McIlroy will require no reminding that a 6&5 trouncing on Wednesday by Ian Poulter at the WGC Match Play arrived just 15 days before his latest tilt at completing a career grand slam. How McIlroy, clearly in the midst of technical struggles, must wish the Masters didn’t arrive in early April. For now, the Northern Irishman’s best hope is the grounds of Augusta National somehow summon the kind of touch that has painfully deserted him in recent weeks.

Poulter, such a specialist in this format during Ryder Cups, was probably the last player McIlroy fancied facing on day one in Austin. The Englishman was dominant from the start, racing into a three-hole lead after five. When McIlroy clawed that advantage back to 1 up on the 8th green, Poulter reeled off five winning holes in a row to claim the match. McIlroy’s wayward play was summed up at the 5th, where his tee shot finished in a neighbouring swimming pool.

Poulter was understandably fair towards his Ryder Cup teammate. “I played well,” he said. “I played well and the scoreline’s pretty flattering to be honest with you. But I kept Rory under pressure and I made it difficult for him. He hit a couple of loose shots but putting the ball in pretty tight and taking control of the match, I had to do that against Rory.”

McIlroy has formalised his relationship with the swing coach Pete Cowen as he bids to revive his fortunes. “I think there’s a couple of areas of his game which I’m sure he wants to firm up a little bit,” Poulter said. “Obviously he missed a couple of tee shots left. He was trying to hit a kind of hold-up cut.

“But it’s Rory, it doesn’t take a lot for Rory to spark up pretty quickly and I wasn’t surprised with anything. I just felt that I had done a pretty decent job of putting him under pressure. I made it difficult for him.” Poulter’s seven birdies and an eagle endorse that point entirely.

A format designed to please broadcasters and sponsors means McIlroy must complete group matches against Cameron Smith and Lanto Griffin rather than beat a hasty retreat from Texas.

Meanwhile, the European Tour hopes to attract 1,000 spectators a day to the British Masters in May, after applying to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to be included in a batch of pilot events aimed at testing the return of crowds to venues.

The FA Cup final and World Snooker Championship have already been confirmed as pilot competitions, with the DCMS aiming for “around a dozen”. Golf differs from those competitions as a designated outdoor, non-stadium sport.

The DCMS refused to offer specific comment on the situation regarding the British Masters, with a spokesman pointing out the complete makeup of test events will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

The European Tour hopes its positive relationship with the government, which was instrumental in golf’s six-week UK swing last summer, will help the case for the British Masters. The tournament at the Belfry on 12-15 May will be hosted by the former Masters champion Danny Willett.