Monty on Rory at Augusta: "He's got to putt like he hasn't putted before"

Monty on Rory at Augusta: "He's got to putt like he hasn't putted before"
 Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie believes Rory McIlroy must putt well if he is to win the Masters and complete the Career Grand Slam this year.

"He's got to get that ball in the hole, Rory," Montgomerie said. "He's got to putt. He's got to putt like he hasn't putted before, because he's competing against guys that are better than him on the greens. 

"He has to out-perform them getting there and he has to have everything working well to win here."

The key for McIlroy, according to Montgomerie, is to start with a good round so he can play with less pressure on his shoulders as he bids to become the third youngest to complete the Career Grand Slam after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

"When Rory McIlroy gets three or four ahead, he generally gets five, six, seven ahead," Montgomerie said.

"So yes, he plays his best golf when he is free and easy, and yet on that first tee on Thursday, he will be tight. I mean, there's not many people have won all four majors, and this is the last one in his career to try and to achieve it, so he can't be that way. 

"What Rory has to do is go out on Thursday and score in the 60s. If he can do that and get into this and then let freedom take over; if Rory goes out and scores 72, 73, 74, then the pressure is really on him, and I don't think he's going to do it.

"The one thing that I worry about with Rory's game is, of course, holing out. When you think about the holers-out that he's competing against: The likes of Dustin Johnson this year; the likes of Matsuyama this year; Jordan Spieth of course springs to mind; Rickie Fowler; Jon Rahm. 

"Is he good enough on the greens over four days to finally win the Masters? Because that's what really this tournament is all about is who can hole out those seven, eight-footers on a consistent basis. 

"That's the fear I have with Rory. It will be interesting to see how Brandel feels regarding that."

Fellow Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee fears that Augusta National might not be the course best suited to his game, despite the general perception that it's tailor-made for him.

"There is the thought that he only has to master one golf course to complete the career Grand Slam," Chamblee said. "It just so happens that this particular golf course doesn't really suit the weaknesses in his game. 

"You know, if this golf course, like every other major, if it pumped around to different courses, the stars might just line up one year where he fell into a golf course that allowed him to, you know, get around his weaknesses.

"But he does struggle around and on the greens, and that's just a place where you cannot struggle and expect to be the champion at the end of the week.

"You know, he can do almost everything that Augusta National needs of him, except scramble, particularly well. Year-in and year-out, the best scramblers, or players that have the best scrambling week, win there, and he's yet to have a great week around the greens at Augusta National."

McIlroy is lightly raced going into the Masters this year. It wasn't by design but because of injury. But can it helpp him?

"The more relaxed Rory is, of course, the more relaxed anybody is, the better they are," Chamblee said. "But not too many people have the talent to do what Rory McIlroy [doess]. You know, the question arises often: Who is at their very best, who is the best? Rory, Dustin, Jason Day or Jordan Spieth.

I think it would be a pretty dead heat to see Rory playing his best golf and Dustin Johnson playing his best golf. Dustin Johnson withdrew from Houston this week for the very reason that you're alluding to; I think to be fresh, to be rested, and I think it was the right thing for Dustin Johnson to do having gone seven matches at the Match Play.

"And I think Rory has this entire year, one eye on Augusta National and the entire time he's been playing: What do I have to do to show up there to be in the best frame of mind, to be relaxed and still be technically sharp, and everything that he is doing is by design...

"I think he'll show up and he'll be in the best frame of mind. And let's hope he gets off to a great start, because there are few things in golf more beautiful than Rory playing his best golf."

They key for both men could be Johnson's start, given his comfort level at August National and the mistaken impression that he lacks golfing intelligence.

"I was just going to say, I think he's very underrated in that department," Chamblee said. "I think that there is a cerebral element to what Dustin Johnson does. I think there's an ability for him to take a look at the lay of the land and immediately imagine the shot that's required to fit whatever hole location, and then be able to make the changes in his golf swing just immediately to sort of fit the lay of the land.

"And that's an athletic genius that is really underrated. He may not be able to articulate that to the degree that everybody wants him to, but I think athletically, he's got a gift. You just don't see somebody come along -- I've seen a lot of raw talent come to the TOUR. Just right now, I could list ten players that have enough raw talent and enough length to do some of the things that Dustin Johnson is doing.

"So Dustin has pretty much all the nuances of the game. You know, just for example, in the final match [in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play], he laid up with an iron in both of the matches that he played on Sunday at the 18th. He knew and weighed against all of the disadvantages going for that green with a driver versus his strengths, which right now, is also his wedge game. So he played to that and I thought that showed a lot of discipline.

"But you know, if you look at what Dustin Johnson has to do at Augusta National, he's a different player now than he was even the last two years when he finished 6 & 4. I'm looking forward to -- and he needs to be able to hit a draw around the corner at No. 2, or at least be able to work a 3-wood off of that right bunker.

"He now then has this fade shot, which he has struggled at the fourth hole in his career because he has not been able to hit a reliable fade sort of into that -- just over the bunker, working left-to-right into that slope. And it's really hurt him on the 15th hole, as well, where he's gotten out of position left of those trees down there on 15; and now he can fade it down there and get to the right of these trees and have this beautiful look at the 15th green.

"And so just sort of two, three, four situations, he can get himself into a position early on in this championship. As Colin pointed out, you cannot get behind. The average winner over -- pick your ten years, 20 years, is well inside the Top-10 after the first round; well inside the top five after the second round. So you just can't get behind.

"And all of those little ways that Dustin Johnson has changed his game over the last year, I think are just going to putt him right where he needs to be early on in this championship."

Discipline is key at the Masters and whether McIlroy can avoid his annual double bogey is one of the key question of the week.

"In the last 20 years, the eventual champion has not scored higher than bogey 17 times," Chamblee said. "Seventeen times the winner in the last 20 years has not made a score higher than a bogey.

"Only three times in the last 20 years has the winner made a double-bogey, and he only made one. I mean, that's an eye-opening statistic and it speaks exactly to what Colin is talking about, discipline....

"It just speaks to the player's state of mind and it speaks to his ability to get himself into position. People will say it's a second-shot golf course, and that's, you know, that's a pretty good way to look at it, certainly. But it is about discipline. It is about getting yourself in position to avoid big numbers and giving yourself the best possible chance of going along unimpeded."

Montgomerie, who was better than most at managing his way golf course, sees double bogeys as a sign that a player is not thinking well.

"If you made a double-bogey around Augusta, you really have made in my view an amateur mistake," he said.

"You can make bogeys. You can make bogeys all day long. They don't add up very quickly. But if you make a double around Augusta, in my view, you've made an amateur error, an error of judgment between you and your caddie.

"And the classic case is an amateur thinks after they have hit the shot; a pro, he thinks before it, and you've got to think like a pro around Augusta." 

Masters week on Golf Channel will officially kick off on Sunday, April 2, with live coverage of the 2017 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship National Finals, featuring junior golfers from across the U.S. and Canada making up the 80 finalists in the field gathering at Augusta National Golf Club. On Monday, April 3, Golf Channel will commence its nearly 90 hours of live news and Masters-themed programming, led by the network’s signature Golf Central Live From the Masters news coverage, focusing on emerging storylines, analysis, features and guest interviews throughout the week surrounding the first men’s major of 2017. Notable guests expected to appear currently include past Masters champions Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Raymond Floyd.

Anchoring Golf Central Live From the Masters coverage from Augusta National Golf Club will be Mike Tirico, Rich Lerner and Steve Sands, alongside Brandel Chamblee, David Duval, Colin Montgomerie, Frank Nobilo, Notah Begay, Mark Rolfing, and John Feinstein. Todd Lewis will offer on-site reports, and conduct interviews with those in the field, while Tim Rosaforte and Rex Hoggard will offer insider perspective. Ryan Burr will anchor the network’s live coverage from Golf Channel’s World Headquarters in Orlando, and will be joined by Golf Channel analyst Arron Oberholser.