Soft conditions have made pins accessible and fittingly for the fist major championship of the year, the thoroughbreds like Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose came out of the blocks fast, announcing their intentions from the off.
The middle of the green is his mantra for the time being, but when some of the games best players are gamely shooting darts at their soft receptive targets and pouring in the putts, it is tempting to follow suit.
Therein lies the conundrum for the world’s best player — how much does he taper his natural instinct? How much of a lead can he afford to give to other past champions? When does he start pushing?
McIlroy’s even par front nine bore all the hallmarks of a predator surveying his prey. Without giving anything away, his opening holes, while calming his nerves, would only have highlighted the fact that his opposition are going to mount a formidable challenge to his quest for Grand Slam glory.
Indeed its too simplistic to say that they have less to lose, as it is still a major championship, but at this stage it seems that they are definitely a little looser and therefore more dangerous.
Chief amongst McIlroy’s challengers are the left-handers Bubba Watson and his playing partner Phil Mickelson, who between them, have already won this event five times.
Yesterday McIlroy will have witnessed for himself the advantages they have over him as a right-hander playing Augusta.
For example, given the modern-day golf ball is easier to hit further through the air with a fade (left to right) than a draw (right to left), it makes the right to left tee shots on holes number 9, 10 and 13 infinitely easier for the left-handers.
Another great example is the par-3 12th, as it makes the green a huge target as it favours a left-hander’s shot dispersion of short-left, long-right. The exact opposite is case for the right-handed golfer as a pull shot means it will go long left whereas a push shot will mean that it will comes up short right and most probably find the water.
And as if that were not enough, both players also possess in abundance the imagination and short game skills so essential for victory.
So we can safely assume that competitors of this calibre will not go away meaning that at some stage McIlroy will have to loosen his controlled girth if he is to contend.
That will mean taking calculated chances — but McIlroy’s game is built around controlled aggression, much like those of Watson and Mickelson but in their case the stakes aren’t as high.
Therefore, adversity must be McIlroy’s friend this week because his conservative game plan dictates that he will only win this event when he unleashes his shackles — but understanding when to is the key. He has already suffered many anxious moments in his career but now is not the time for jitters or self-doubt.
His foundations — his talent, his courage and his steely nerve must remain in tact — he must stay true to himself. He has proven that he can win major championships from any position, something Tiger Woods has never been able to do.
What that says is that he is not only supremely confident in his own abilities but that he is in both patient as well as a brilliant reader of the field — someone capable of delivering what ever needs be in order to get the job done.
One man who is in no doubt that he will get the job done if not this year then soon is the only other non-American to win a Grand Slam championship, Gary Player.
Their stories are similar — both had to deal with adversity and hardship to get to where they are today.
“It would be just the most wonderful thing, not only for the Grand Slam, but for golf in general. He’s the type of person that you want representing this sport.”
Watson, Mickelson and others no doubt will want their own say in the outcome of this year’s tournament. Either way we will be once again reminded why the major championships and most especially the Masters at Augusta National are so special.