Rory McIlroy hoping Butch Harmon visit pays off in bid for elusive Masters win

Most people leave Las Vegas with considerably less money than when they arrived, but Rory McIlroy’s recent trip to Sin City could prove priceless.

Faced with a mediocre run of results by his standards and with the 88th Masters on the horizon, McIlroy headed west for a lesson with famous coach Butch Harmon, the man behind the first eight of Tiger Woods’s 15 major titles.

Harmon’s credentials mean McIlroy’s visit could not entirely be labelled a gamble, but it was a significant rolling of the dice ahead of his 10th attempt to complete the career grand slam by earning a fabled green jacket.

“I’ve done this a number of times in my career,” McIlroy said. “I met Butch when I was 14-years-old, so we’ve always had a good relationship. If there’s one guy that I want to go and get a second opinion from, it’s him.

“It’s the same stuff that I’ve been trying to do with my coach Michael (Bannon), but he sort of just said it in a different way that maybe hit home with me a little bit more.

“It was a really worthwhile trip.”

Proof of that came with a final round of 66 and third place in the following week’s Valero Texas Open, albeit nine shots behind winner Akshay Batia, and McIlroy arrived in Augusta on Tuesday lunchtime as a firm second favourite behind world number one Scottie Scheffler.

Such a late arrival – McIlroy was the last of the 89 players to register – was another departure from the norm, as was a truncated press conference which saw the four-time major winner face just seven questions.

Woods had been far more expansive an hour or so earlier, reiterating his belief that McIlroy winning the Masters was just “a matter of time”, but also insisting that a sixth green jacket and 16th major title was not out of the question, despite his ongoing injury problems.

Odds of 150/1 on that eventuality suggest the bookmakers do not share such optimism, while prices of 4/1 on Scheffler winning a second Masters title in three years are the kind Woods regularly justified in his prime.

The 2022 champion has been in brilliant form this season, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by five shots and seven days later becoming the first player to win back-to-back Players Championship titles at Sawgrass.

Only a short missed birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the Houston Open cost Scheffler the chance of a third straight win and it would be a huge surprise if he was not at least in contention on Sunday.

The same can also be said of defending champion Jon Rahm, despite his shock defection to LIV Golf making it harder to objectively assess his recent form.

Rahm has finished third, eighth, fifth, 14th and fifth again so far this season, but knows from personal experience that previous success counts for a lot at the only venue which hosts a major championship every year.

Despite starting last year’s Masters by four-putting the opening hole for a double bogey, Rahm went on to win his second major title by four shots from LIV players Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, with Patrick Reed another stroke back in fourth.

Koepka went on to win the US PGA Championship a month later and remains a different player in majors than regular events, while US Open champion Wyndham Clark and world number nine Ludvig Aberg are bidding to become the first player to win on their Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

A rookie winning would no doubt be galling to McIlroy, but he could yet hit the jackpot.


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