Augusta gives Irish food for thought

Rory McIlroy cannot believe he’s gone into the water at the 15th in the third round. A double bogey seven marked the end of the 2013 Masters for the world number two.Augusta is the most alluring of all the major venues but like water, its shimmering beauty belies its power to overwhelm. It seeks out even the tiniest fissure in the dam of resistence, exerts massive pressure and finds a way to bring your world crashing down around your ears.

Only Adam Scott and the Angel Cabrera emerged unscathed from the toughest examination of nerve in the Masters while Ireland’s quartet of contenders left the sacred grounds with a little more scar tissue to remind them of their weaknesses.

For amateur Alan Dunbar it was a week to remember for so many reasons but also a timely reminder of the arduous climb he faces to the top of his profession.

For Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington it was a reminder that no matter how much we might pretend that all is right with the world, words are no defence when the great physical and mental test of the Masters is stares you in the face and you must come up with answers to every question without fail.

Even at the height of his powers, Harrington has always found it tough to respond at Augusta National and his 14th appearance would expose the many challenges he faces to get out of his own way and play the game unencumbered by a morass of mental crutches.

There were flashes of the old Pádraig on day one before the mistakes multiplied and the demons that have haunted him on the greens put paid to his Masters challenge before it had even started.

Bob Torrance’s warning about going down roads with no return echoed in my head as Harrington’s Masters dreams were smashed to smithereeens. At his very best when he doesn’t think and simply focuses on getting the ball in the hole. But you can almost hear the gears grinding in his head as he mechanically sets about every shot like a man who’s taken a clock apart and can’t for the life of him work out what to do with all the cogs and springs spread before him on the table.

McDowell is well aware of the technical issues that make Augusta National the major venue least suited to his game. Lacking length, he’s uncomfortable moving the ball right to left having spent his entire career taking the left side of the course out of play. Add to that his fragile confidence around the greens when it’s such an integral part of the syllabus and all 18 questions become true head-scratchers.

Until he learns to hit a 300-yard, screaming draw, only a white-hot putter or a firm and fast golf course can save him when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

McIlroy’s five visits to Augusta have exposed his weaknesses in the mental department. When everything is on song, the game is as easy for him as riding a bicycle. He needs a “clean” Masters to restore some confidence in his ability to win a green jacket but shrugging off the weight of expectation on his shoulders is an added burden that severely handicaps him.

His decision to change strategy and play safe, smart golf this year required perfect execution. Plainly, he was simply not sharp enough to belive 100 percent in what he was doing and Augusta killed him the moment he dropped his guard.

“Yeah, it’s more a mental thing,” he said on Sunday. “Just trusting myself, trusting my swing.  That’s really it.”