Danny Willett stood up after his champion’s press conference at Augusta National, the green of his Callaway polo short contrasting nicely with the “Masters Green” of his new jacket.
“It’s just great to get the win, regardless of who it’s before or who it’s after,” he said, when asked if he was surprised to win a Masters before his former stablemate Rory McIlroy. “I am just privileged to be here.”
For most of his career — starting with the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down — Willett has been looking up to McIlroy. Now it’s McIlroy’s turn to look up at Willett and wonder how he got his hands on the green jacket first.
“It is not about trying to follow in my footsteps,” Willett said. “I was trying to follow in his.”
Clearly, Willett is surprised he’s beaten a course and distance favourite like McIlroy to the finishing post in a race he is supposedly destined to win.
Given his talent, few players in the history off the game have been more hotly tipped to win at Augusta National than McIlroy, even after the disappointment of 2011, when he was four clear on 12 under par with a round to go and shot an eight over 80 to end up 15th.
“He won’t just win one Masters, he’ll win multiple Masters,” was the initial call from Graeme McDowell.
Bernhard Langer, Jack Nicklaus, Ian Woosnam and a host of other Masters winners agree, even after 2011.
So why hasn’t it happened yet?
The Masters Tournament is, despite all the hype, just another tournament and it requires tactics, discipline and certain skills to come out of top.
How Rory scores at Augusta National
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While the world record holder will often romp to victory in the 100 metres final at the Olympic Games, it’s still a race that must be won and like any other athlete, McIlroy must have a battle plan, the discipline to carry it out and the intelligence to make adjustments as conditions change.
Still, arriving at Augusta National with anything less than your A game is likely to end in tears and it speaks volumes about Jordan Spieth that he had the discipline to compete with what Paul McGinley described as “his B minus game” and even lead the Masters by five strokes with nine holes to play.
Like a blind man trying to dance through rush hour traffic, we can now see (with benefit of the 20-20 vision that hindsight affords) that Spieth was an accident waiting to happen.
McIlroy was arguably striking the ball far better than his rival but that he did not compete at the weekend is an indictment of his lack of tactical and mental discipline, as the 2014 Ryder Cup captain suggested.
“I don’t see enough focus from Rory at the moment,” McGinley told Golf Channel on Tuesday. “When you look at Danny and the way he was able to close out. It wasn’t just that, it was his body language, it was how comfortable he was playing that golf course, playing the test. You look at Jordan Spieth, his ability to concentrate even when he had his B minus game all week. And yet he was still there contending and focusing. That’s the big thing that Rory has to learn.
“He has to learn how to adapt. And he has to learn how to sit different examinations. And when you have an examination like last week with swirling winds, you have to be able to recover from those mistakes and get up and down to shoot a score.
“Look at Tiger Woods in ’06 at Hoylake. I think he only hit one or two drivers the whole way around. That’s the discipline he showed to sit the examination paper that Hoylake presented. And then he would go somewhere else where he would take out the driver and play aggressively.
“You have to play aggressively but in the words of Bernhard Langer last week, you have to be aggressive-smart and I think Rory needs to learn different disciplines to sit different examination papers and Augusta was a very tough exam last week.
McGinley is still impressed by Spieth despite the Amen Corner meltdown that cost him the chance to retain the Masters
He said: “To be honest, I think Jordan is the best competitor in the game at the moment. Not many guys could compete with their B minus game like he did last week and contend for a major championship.
“I give him massive credit for that. I know it unravelled for him around Amen Corner and we wont’ go into that too much. But you have to hand it to him with his ability to compete when he is not on his game.
“What we saw last week was the value of having your battery full going into the Masters. Last year when he got a five-shot lead he was able to run away and hide. He was able to control the game and he seemed to be a lot calmer than he was last year. And I think that as he was off his game and wasn’t coming in with a lot of good form, his body language wasn’t great and he seemed to be having talks with his caddie a lot.
"There was an uneasiness with everything that he did. So that is how well he played and you have got to give him credit for that. It’s important now that he comes away and doesn’t overreact to the fact that he didn’t win the Masters because I think he did some brilliant work last week.
"As I say, not many guys in the modern game can contend with their B minus game and nearly win the Masters. Hopefully he is not going to be too damaged by what happened and he sees the big picture. He talks about “we” a lot and his friends and his family. So they need to stand up and show real perspective to Jordan.
"This was about a lot of positives. Imagine how well you are going to do when you do get back on your game again and get thatmental battery full again of good, positive thoughts.”
McIlroy’s putting is often cited as the reason he hasn’t won the Masters. But if can make an eagle and 16 birdies in 72 holes, as he did last week, he could surely have found a way to avoid making as many as 15 bogeys and two double bogeys.
Spieth’s greatest strength is his putting and yet he changed his set up last week, using a wider stance and crouching more over the ball rather than standing up straight to combat the buffeting winds.
McIlroy made 11 of his 17 mistakes last week on three holes — the par-three fourth, the 10th and the 11th. Most of those mistakes came with long irons or the driver and were exacerbated by course management errors.
The fourth is a tough par-three but McIlroy did not hit the green in any round, saved par just once and made two bogeys and a double that could have been a four-putt triple had he not holed a five and a half footer.
His troubles at the 10th have been well documented since his tee shot in the final round in 2011 ricocheted off overhanging branches into the cabins and he made a triple bogey seven.
McIlroy was just three over for his first nine attempts to play the hole but he is now 10 over for the hole the call Camellia in his last 22 tries, starting with that triple.
He’s also got issues getting through the 11th, White Dogwood, which he played in five over par last week.
Amen Corner has been a graveyard for many Masters dreams, including Spieth’s on Sunday. But McIlroy’s problems are more widespread and while he played eight holes on the course under par — in order of ease, the 15th, 13th, second, ninth, eighth, third, 17th and 18th are his good holes — he has historic problems on the other 10 with the 10th, first, seventh and 11th his biggest bugbears.
He says he was too tentative but he also appeared mentally unprepared for the grind the gusting winds presented. Given his remarkable talents, the rest of world golf can only breathe a sigh of relief that so far he hasn’t learned how to dig deep when the going gets tough or tactically dissect a course like a Woods, a Langer or even a Spieth.
The good news is that at 26, it’s not too late to learn.