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Why The Players’ March move bodes well for Rory’s Slam

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MARCH 17: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after winning THE PLAYERS Championship on March 17, 2019 on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In a 2019 PGA Tour season full of change, Rory McIlroy will be eyeing up a similar break from tradition in his bid to close out the career Grand Slam with victory at The Masters next month.

The Northern Irishman’s dramatic win at The Players last weekend was indicative of the form he has produced this year, and he has now strung together five consecutive top-six finishes on tour.

He is now the odds-on favourite to win the coveted green jacket.

Much has been made of the wholesale changes to the golfing schedule in 2019, with The Players moving back to March for the first time in 12 years to allow for the PGA Championship’s move to May.

The logistical return to tradition for the Florida-based ‘fifth major’ once again provides a notable barometer for patrons to select their favourites for golf’s most glamorous tournament, which starts on April 11.

As McIlroy fought off late challenges last Sunday from a whole host of big names, including his Ryder Cup teammates Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood, the key takeaway was his ability to close out victory in the final round at TPC Sawgrass.

With a view to his chances at Augusta National, McIlroy has perennially struggled to slam the door on his probing adversaries when leading the pack at high-profile events, and this composed back-nine went some way to dissuade fears of his penchant to melt away under pressure.

Yet amongst the azaleas in Georgia, McIlroy may find it difficult to separate his recent form from his historically poor ability to hold on to the lead.

While he has not missed the cut at The Masters since 2010, his final round the following year was the scene of a famous meltdown – carding a final round 80 to blow a four-shot lead.

It has been a case of nearly but not quite at Augusta in recent years for McIlroy, who recorded his best finish (T4) in 2015 and in 2018 struggled once again to put together a competitive final round to finish six shots off the pace.

The story heading into last year’s Masters was of a cornucopia of top talent hitting form at the right time.

Tiger Woods was in the midst of his long-awaited comeback, and produced an impressive week at the Valspar Championship to finish runner-up and generate unprecedented hype in the run up to the year’s first major.

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson won the WGC Match Play, and McIlroy himself had enjoyed a timely victory at Bay Hill in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, despite a host of putting woes plaguing his start to 2018.

However, with a first PGA tour win in a year secured at a flagship event and a string of impressive finishes to back it up, the story is going to be about only one man as the golfing world ticks into April.

Robert Clayden
Rob, 24, is a history graduate from the University of Warwick. Following his studies, he spent two years working in the education sector as a director at a tutoring firm, and still continues to work with young people in a sports coaching capacity for squash and cricket. Before undertaking his Sports Journalism Master’s at St Mary’s University, Rob spent the summer of 2018 working for digital golf magazine Golf Today. A competitive sportsman, Rob’s personal strengths and interests lie in racket sports, cricket, golf and American sports, and he joins the plethora of Surrey-based Manchester Utd fans that grace the South-East. Recent visits to Boston and San Francisco have affirmed his love for the sports culture in the US, with a more permanent move out there a long-term aspiration. You will likely find him tweeting propaganda for squash’s inclusion as an Olympic sport at anyone who will listen.
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