Forget about the difference in their putting, did Rory McIlroy bow to Jordan Spieth at the Masters because of the same mistake he made in the Open at St Andrews five years ago, pressing too hard too soon?
In 2010, the now world No 1 opened with a nine under par 63 at the Home of Golf to take a two-shot lead over eventual winner Louis Oosthuizen into the second round.
But he got the wrong side of the draw on Friday and shot an 80 in high winds only to rally to a share of third behind the South African thanks to seven under par weekend.
As the great American writer Dan Jenkins remarked of that costly Friday mishap, “The kid just didn’t know that shooting 75 was a good score.”
The “kid” appeared to have learned his lesson at Kiawah Island in 2012 when he dug deep in the wind to shoot a 75 on Friday and set up what turned out to be an eight-shot romp to his second major win.
But he found himself in a different dynamic at Augusta National when Spieth opened with an eight under 64 and followed up with a 66 on Friday morning.
McIlroy was already seven behind after the first round but by the time he drove up Magnolia Lane, little did he know that he would soon be 13 shots behind the 21-year old who would go on to become the youngest Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 1997.
“We said on Sky that Jordan had broken the back of the tournament on Friday and if he shot two 70s over the weekend, or two 71s even, it was very likely he was going to win,” Paul McGinley told host Ryan Ballengee on the 19th Hole Golf Show this week. “And that’s exactly what he did.
“So I think he caught everybody by surprise and as a result, guys made mistakes. And Rory was one of them on the second day, when he was trying to chase down a 13-shot deficit.”
A front nine of four over 40 not only left McIlroy 17 shots off the lead, it almost caused him to miss the halfway cut. That he shot a second successive 71, rallying to play his final 45 holes in 15 under par, is a testament to his talent.
He finished six strokes behind Spieth in the end but whether or not he could have shot 34 instead of 40 on Friday morning is anyone’s guess.
What is certain is that he was always going to find it almost impossible to chase down Spieth over two rounds rather than three.
“It’s incredibly difficult to be patient in that situation,” McGinley explained. “Jordan took advantage of that with the way he played the second morning.
“It is one thing to shoot 64 and have a great first day. But to follow up with a 66 the following day put a huge amount of pressure on the chasing pack. And he created a lot of distance over the chasing back and was able to play within himself over the weekend and keep the pressure on the other guys.”
Spieth’s caddie Michael Geller used a poker analogy to explain it.
“A couple times I got a little frustrated today,” a green-jacketed Spieth said last Sunday evening. “I was pinched by Michael and said, all right, we still got this thing. He likes to say we've got pocket aces, we are already ahead, we just have to play it out the way we know how to play it out.”
Despite his majestic display on the par-fives (something he simply had to sort out after struggling in 2014), McGinley felt McIlroy was doomed to come up short given Spieth’s classy display and the enormity of his lead.
“Rory played very well over the weekend but he was still making the occasional mistake,” he said. “It was like a guy going around the racetrack in NASCAR — the more he presses, the more he is going to spin off now and again. And that’s what happened. Jordan in the first two days had spreadeagled the field and taken control of the tournament.”
Spieth’s win is a huge boost to US and world golf, which has been crying out for a new rivalry to match the old Woods-Phil Mickelson dynamic.
Which of them will emerge as the dominant player? Rory with his sensational long game and those sky high irons or Spieth, four years his junior, with that red hot putter and ice cool temperament?
It’s impossible to say but it’s clear that on their form since Spieth lost to Graeme McDowell in the Ryder Cup singles, the American has the edge over McIlroy, and everyone else in the game.
In his nine starts since finishing second in last year’s Tour Championship, McIlroy has one win (Dubai), three second places, another two Top 10s and one missed cut.
Spieth has also missed one cut but won four tournaments, including his first Major, and racked up two runner-up finishes and six Top 10s in 13 events.
Let the debate, and the showdown, begin.