By Brian Keogh
Slow play could be Rory McIlroy’s No 1 enemy when he makes his Masters debut next week.
The lightning quick Ulster sensation, 19, saw Augusta for the first time on Sunday when he played a practice round with his coach Michael Bannon and two members.
But while he got to calm his nerves and try the super-fast greens, he could be facing some of the slowest rounds of his career when the real thing begins in 10 days’ time.
Masters champion Trevor Immelman took five hours and 10 minutes to complete his final round last year
And the South African does not believe it’s going to be any quicker this year as player bid for their places in the history books.
Defending the slow coaches, he said: “When you have a golf course that is so fiery and so difficult in 30-35 mph breezes, the best players in the world are going to struggle.
"As soon as you get two players in a group missing the green or one player hitting it in the water, a player three-putting or four-putting or chipping it across the green because of the difficult circumstances, play is going to hold up."
Yet McIlroy is famous for his rapid-fire play and could find Augusta a frustrating experience.
Explaining his routine, McIlroy said: “I've always been quick, and that's just the way I play. I stand up, look at the shot, assess it, know the shot I'm going to hit and I hit it. I don't mess about.
“That's pretty much the easiest way to play for me. There's no point in taking time over things, because you just confuse yourself. So I stand up, look at the target and hit it. That's the way I've always been.”
No Irishman has ever broke par in his first competitive round at Augusta at Graeme McDowell, who shot 79 on his debut in 2005, reckons it will be even tougher this time.
After seeing the lengthened course for the first time nine days ago, he has been working hard on his short game before he heads back for another scouting trip next weekend.
He said: "The Masters has become a more difficult prospect than it has in years gone by. I played there last week and saw the length of the new course and the way the greens are set up and I'm really excited to get back there.
"It rewards great iron play and unbelievable short games. I've been working really hard on my chipping and putting and I'm looking forward to putting it to the test."
The Ulsterman left it too late to secure an invite for this week’s Shell Houston Open but reckons he got "a great work out mentally" as he tied for 40th at Bay Hill on Sunday.
Comparing Bay Hill to the mental test he will face at Augusta, McDowell said: "This golf course differs a lot from Augusta but I think you can compare the mindset.
"Four is a great score; you have to place the ball correctly on the greens when you are going into these difficult pin positions. The greens aren't Augusta quick but they're tricky to read.”
By Brian Keogh