Fitzpatrick can see green jacket ahead (and for Rory too)

Matthew Fitzpatrick was left wondering what might have been had he not opened his Masters account with a round of 78.

Fitzpatrick can see green jacket ahead (and for Rory too)

Matthew Fitzpatrick was left wondering what might have been had he not opened his Masters account with a round of 78.

After all, he finished tied for 21st with Rory McIlroy on five-under-par after following that day one disaster with rounds of 67, 68 and 70.

And like McIlroy, he knows after this week that driving accuracy and short game brilliance are prerequisites for success around Augusta National.

“It’s given me confidence that I can compete or even win here,” he said. “I get that everyone can say ‘if I didn’t hit that shot’. But stood on 14th tee I was six-under, with a six-over first round. If I shoot level par there I’m six better; I’m 12-under.

“Level par around here in the conditions, particularly on the first day, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. At 12-under I would be challenging, I would be leading. This week has given me the belief that I can win here. Bay Hill did the same.

“The first day it was just a complete anomaly really given that I was 11 shots better the second round. I wasn’t too far off; I just didn’t drive it well. I hit just two fairways with my driver on the 12 holes I hit driver and only found two, and they are not exactly tight, and then didn’t get it up and down.

“If I had a short game as good as Luke Donald’s on that day, I get them up and down, and I am six shots better and rather than being stood here, I am out there contending.

“I feel like I could win on the PGA Tour as well. I’ve got to play my best, but the positions I’ve put myself in given my first round shows that I can do it I guess.

“Don’t get me wrong, it is a completely different animal when you are in the lead, and the pressure is on to win.

“But I know I have done enough homework and made enough notes to know the ins and outs of this course now because I am here every year. It comes down to decision making and hitting it in the right spots. Hit it in the wrong spots, and it is a guaranteed bogey.”

Fitzpatrick played with McIlroy in the final round at Bay Hill and again in the group stages of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.

He lost 4&2 in Texas, and while he got another lesson driving prowess, he also saw what might be McIlroy’s biggest hurdle when it comes to truly leaving the rest for dead — taking the myriad chances he creates.

“It helps to hit it longer, and it would definitely help me,” he said of the importance of power.

“But Rory is good enough, and I played against him at the matchplay, and he was four under after nine, and I was looking at [my caddie] Billy [Foster].

“I don’t mean this in a bad way, but he missed about three putts inside 10 feet and could have been seven-under after nine. That’s how good he is and how good he can be. It just takes one week.”

Asked if the pressure of trying to complete the career grand slam was McIlroy’s biggest challenge, he said: “It could be that. It is impossible not to think about it, isn’t it? Something that might help him would be not being last out, and he can fly through the field. He’s that good.”

Having a caddie who can keep you loose is often a help, and Fitzpatrick had one in Foster on an overcast day.

“I couldn’t see very well for the first two or three holes, felt like it was a bit dark,” he said.

“I said that to my caddie, and he joked — do you want me to get a ref? — I was like, I’m being serious, I can’t really see much. But it was alright in the end.”

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