Rory climbs out of hole with putting guru’s help

RORY McILROY’s bid to move on from his Masters disappointment continued at Wentworth yesterday as he spent more time with short-game expert Dave Stockton ahead of today’s BMW PGA Championship opening round.

The 22-year-old Holywood golfer says he is already emotionally over the trauma of his final-day meltdown at Augusta National seven weeks ago when a disastrous 10th hole saw his four-shot overnight lead disappear and signalled a horror round of 80 as South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel landed the famed Green Jacket with a six-under-par 66.

Yet he has acknowledged there are deficiencies in his game that came to light at the Masters and he is working hard to address them.

“I’m fine now, it was obviously difficult the few days after,” McIlroy said yesterday at Wentworth. “But it’s good, it was a huge learning process. I feel I’ve learned from it and feel as if I’ve become a better player for it.”

Working with two-time US PGA champion and former American Ryder Cup captain Stockton, who also works with Phil Mickelson, is a continuation of that process which, said the Ulsterman, has seen a more instinctive approach to his putting.

“I feel he can help me with a lot of things,” McIlroy said. “He’s been there and done that, he’s a major champion.

“It’s mostly on routine and how to approach a putt, nothing really that technical. We don’t feel as if there’s (anything) technically wrong with it but the way to approach green reading. That’s basically it.

“And I think it feels very good at the minute. I feel as if from 10 to 20 feet I’ve really improved. It’s just about trying to free up a little bit the ones under 10 feet.”

To that end, Stockton has advised McIlroy to actually speed up his pre-putt routine.

“I felt I was taking a little too long over them,” McIlroy continued, “having three looks at the hole... I used to take three practice strokes. I don’t take the practice strokes now, one look at the hole, go.

“Very instinctive, instead of almost thinking about it too much. Just trying to let it all flow, let it all go and I think he can help me a lot with that.”

While McIlroy is forging a new partnership with Stockton, the 22-year-old has also resumed relations with his good friend Graeme McDowell following their last-16 tussle at the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin in Spain last Saturday.

McDowell beat McIlroy 3&2 with both players yesterday describing a tense atmosphere between the pair during a match where both tried mind games to unsettle one another.

“It was definitely pretty frosty for those 16 holes,” McDowell said. “It had to be that way because we are very good friends and I guess there’s two degrees, you can spend the day having the craic with him and enjoying it between shots, shooting the breeze, but there’s the other end of the spectrum.

“I think he went with the tactic of not engaging in any conversation and I had that tactic as well and it ended up being a reasonably frosty 16 holes ... because we had to focus on our games and trying to beat each other.”

The only frost after their match, however, was on the glasses of beer they enjoyed together later that day, McDowell having been knocked out in his afternoon quarter-final by Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts.

“We ended up flying home together,” McDowell said. “Had a couple of cold beers and talked about the round.”

McIlroy confirmed his friend’s version of events, adding: “It was funny, when we got on the plane I said to him, ‘I just want to thank you for the chat we had out there today’.

“We didn’t speak one word to each other the whole day and that’s the way it had to be. It was a very strange atmosphere out on the course last Saturday morning.

“I’m glad he played so well because I feel I brought the best out of him. I haven’t seen him play that well, ever, really. He was seven or eight under par for 16 holes and didn’t really miss a shot.

“I played really good and I missed a couple of opportunities around the turn but I was five under and got beat 3&2. It’s a tough school but I’m glad I felt as if I brought the best out of him and he had to play his best golf to beat me.”

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