Stockton backs Rory Masters bid

Rory McIlroy is in a “really good place” as he counts down to the Masters, according to his assistant coach Dave Stockton.

Stockton backs Rory Masters bid

Stockton spent a fortnight working with the Holywood ace earlier this year and was blown away by the youngster’s preparation.

And he believes McIlroy is arriving in Augusta perfectly primed.

“He is happy with every club in the bag and Rory’s in a really good place mind, body and soul,” said Stockton.

“I look back to that Australian Open win [last December] as it was pivotal because not only did it keep alive a streak of Rory having won at least one event a year since 2009 but to end his year with a win was a great lift.

“But I felt bad for him a few weeks ago when he lost out in a play-off for the Honda Classic because I would have liked to have seen him win. And while he lost out he learned from it and bounced back pretty well.

“While he hasn’t set the world on fire in Houston [this week] he’s still in a good place and I was pleased he competed there after having three weeks off.”

During those three weeks between the Cadillac Championship and Houston, Stockton spent a fortnight working with McIlroy at the exclusive Bear’s Club.

“We had a long practice session on his putting and he was very serious as we started the lesson at 9am and we were about five minutes into it and I asked him to go through his routine,” said Stockton.

“That meant he had to bend down and he couldn’t but that was only because he had been in the gym since 5.30am. So he’s put a lot into getting ready for this week and I just want him to enjoy it.”

Apart from captaining the USA’s 1991 Ryder Cup-winning team in the now infamous ‘War on the Shore’ at Kiawah Island, Stockton captured to PGA Championships (1970 & 1976) and was runner-up in the 1974 Masters to Gary Player. Stockton was second also in the 1978 US Open to Andy North while he competed at Augusta a dozen times from 1969 to 1981.

And while McIlroy has already tasted success in a US Open and the PGA, Stockton knows the Masters is still the title he craves the most.

“The Masters is top of Rory’s list given he came so close in 2011 [when he led going into the final round before shooting an 80] and in the three weeks after that I first met him, and I knew he had learned from that experience. We worked at Charlotte and then at the BMW PGA at Wentworth and three weeks later after the Masters he wins the US Open, and he was flawless.

“He changed from what I saw what was a pace problem at the Masters because he and [Angel] Cabrera were out in the last group and Rory just played too fast. But then no one thought Rory would win at Congressional but he just blew them all away.

“So even though we know what happened at Augusta back in 2011 he’ll go there this week with no scars.”

Meanwhile, the odds on McIlroy winning this week’s Masters are sure to be slashed after a superb seven-under par 65 on the final day of the Shell Houston Open yesterday.

McIlroy ended his best ever Houston round in steady rain by holing a 10-foot birdie putt in a bogey-free round.

“I could not have asked for more heading into a Major championship than to shoot a 65,” he said smiling.

“So it was a great way to round off my preparations for Augusta and I had mentioned after Saturday’s round I wanted to shoot something in the 60s and I achieved that.

“I just pieced it all together today but then I’m only the bookies’ favourite next week, and while they know what they are doing [smiling] they still had Wisconsin winning by a couple of points last night [NCAA semi-final] and Kentucky got them by one.

“But then usually the bookies are not too far away and I would feel I am one of a handful of guys who will be up there next week, and it was just to see some of the game I know I have coming through today.”

Meanwhile, the Masters could be facing one of its poorest attendances in some time with Augusta ticket sales down 20% in the first 24 hours after Tiger Woods had announced his withdrawal.

It will mean scalpers will be out in force along Washington Road over the next few days.

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