‘I think Rory could be a sleeper at Augusta’: Butch Harmon on how ‘everything is falling in place’ for McIlroy to finally seal the career Grand Slam at the Masters, doubts over Bryson DeChambeau’s transformation and Tiger Woods’ ‘fear factor’
- When the Masters gets underway on Thursday, there will be a different feel to it
- For the first time ever, the Masters is being held in November amid the pandemic
- Butch Harmon talked up Rory McIlroy’s chances of sealing Grand Slam of majors
- Harmon also reflected on Tiger Woods’ historic achievement last year at Augusta
- Harmon is unsure how Bryson DeChambeau’s transformation will hold up
Cast your mind back to the fateful day of April 10, 2011, and Rory McIlroy would be forgiven for dreaming about slipping on the prestigious Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.
McIlroy held a four-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round but his dream soon turned into a nightmare when he dropped six shots in three holes on the back nine – including a triple bogey on 10 which quickly put an end to his pursuit at Augusta.
Over nine years on and McIlroy has won every major – including the PGA Championship twice – bar the iconic Masters crown, with his best finish coming in 2015 when he placed fourth.
Rory McIlroy will bid again to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters this week
McIlroy’s 2011 heartbreak is still fresh in the minds of many when it comes to reflecting on the Masters’ most memorable moments, but revered golf instructor and Sky Sports pundit Butch Harmon believes the Northern Irishman can finally end his Augusta hoodoo this year as he heads into the tournament under the radar.
Speaking exclusively to Sportsmail, Harmon said: ‘I think his chances are good. If you look at Rory at the last event he played at ZOZO, he made more birdies than anyone. I like the progression he has made, I think Rory could be a sleeper in this whole thing. I think everybody is not even thinking about him.
‘You are looking at Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and all these guys that are up there. But I honestly think Rory, I don’t know what the odds are, but I think he is a little bit of a sleeper.
‘I think if he can clean up the mental mistakes, I think Rory will have a good chance to win and it would be really special because it is the one he hasn’t won. So it will be great for golf, and it would be really great for golf in the UK for sure.’
The 31-year-old heads into Masters week, the biggest of the golf calendar, in modest form, finishing tied 17th at the ZOZO Championship, tied 21st at the CJ Cup after a tied eighth place at the US Open.
McIlroy came agonisingly close to winning the Masters in 2011 before his final round collapse
But by taking a trip down memory lane, history tells us that you don’t have to be in special form to win the Masters.
Harmon, who will be commentating for Sky Sports from his home in Las Vegas during these unprecedented times, jokingly added: ‘He knows Augusta very well. He has the game for it. I am going to have to run down the casino and put a little wager on it. I don’t know what the price will be but I’ll be checking it out.
‘You would think it is only a matter of time until he completes the Grand Slam, he is too good not to. I mean he is one of the best players the game has had in the last 10 to 12 years.
‘He seems to be a little happier now with his life. You know he has got a new baby, everything seems to be falling in place for him.’
The 77-year-old, who holds a special affinity with Augusta after his father – Claude Harmon Sr – won back in 1948, claims McIlroy’s horror collapse in 2011 still haunts him to this day..
Butch Harmon believes McIlroy can quietly go under the radar at this unprecedented Masters
‘I think it takes a unique person to put all that out of your head,’ Harmon said. ‘I think one of the great strengths that Jack Nicklaus had, Tiger Woods had, Phil Mickelson had it as well because of all his bad drives and stuff, Dustin Johnson definitely has it, is the ability to put that behind you.
‘I use DJ as an example, he gets asked all the time how often do you think about three-putting on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay from 12 feet to lose the US Open, his answer is always the same: “I never think about it, hell they’re not going to let me go back and do it again so why should I think about it?” That’s a very unique person that can put that behind them.
‘And I think Rory now may have found a place in his brain and his mind that he can put that behind him, but it is difficult to put behind.
‘I think we are going to see a different Rory, at least I hope we do next week because I would love to see him coming down the stretch with a chance to win because I think it would add a whole new dimension to the Masters.
‘It would be really cool to see it happen in this crazy year of the pandemic for Rory McIlroy to complete the career Grand Slam, it would be pretty special.’
QUESTION MARKS OVER DECHAMBEAU’S TRANSFORMATION
Another one of the favourites heading into the Masters is Bryson DeChambeau, fresh off the back of his first major triumph at the US Open at Winged Foot.
The American dominated the US Open field and produced a near-flawless display to claim his first major by six shots.
After returning to the PGA Tour following lockdown, DeChambeau was the talk of the town after his incredible body transformation – putting on an extra 20 pounds of muscle in a bid to swing much harder and render traditional courses obsolete with his power.
But Harmon isn’t sure whether DeChambeau’s transformation will help him in the long run.
Bryson DeChambeau celebrates after winning his first major at the US Open in September
‘I have no idea how his body can hold up swinging this hard going at that many miles per hour,’ Harmon claimed. ‘I would never have thought he could do what he did at Winged Foot on a golf course that hard with the fairways that narrow and the rough that heavy.
‘What we saw was that he is so strong that the rough didn’t bother him, and he made every putt that he looked at.
‘I think it’s phenomenal what he has done. I think he is about to ruin 100 players that are going to try to do the same thing he has done because I don’t know how his body can take this for another 10 years. I really don’t.
‘Your spine is not built to handle that much pressure on it no matter how strong you make yourself. He is swinging so fast and so hard it’s hard to believe really.
‘I am of the belief that I am not sure the body can hold up that long, but it doesn’t mean that is going to be the case. Only time will tell.’
DeChambeau’s best finish at Augusta is tied 21st back in 2016 but many believe his time is now to walk away with the Green Jacket.
DeChambeau will be hoping he can render Augusta obsolete with his power this week
THE TIGER ‘FEAR FACTOR’
Last year’s Masters will go down in folklore, as we witnessed one of the most incredible triumphs ever in golf.
Tiger Woods, who had been written off by so many as he continuously battled with back problems in recent years, won his first major championship in 11 years and his 15th overall.
And Harmon, who coached the American icon between 1993 and 2004, is still in awe of Woods’ triumph while claiming his old ‘fear factor’ was back to haunt those who slipped up around him.
He said: ‘It was unbelievable. If you think about it, first of all we never thought the guy would ever play again, then we never thought he could win a tournament again and then he wins at East Lake and then he comes and wins the Masters.’
With Woods, donning his iconic red and black final round attire, still in with a major shot heading into the back nine – many started to believe the impossible could really happen.
Tiger Woods’ triumph at Augusta was one of the most incredible Masters memories ever
And according to Harmon, the presence of Woods on the leaderboard clearly affected those chasing the famous Masters title as four players in contention – Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Ian Poulter all dumped their tee shots into the water on the daunting par-3 12th.
‘Four guys in a row hit the water on the 12th. I was talking to Brooks Koepka about that a few weeks ago when he was here working with me. He said “you know I actually felt like I hit a good shot” and that’s the beauty of that hole because the wind swirls around there, but it was like everyone saw it like the old days.
‘In the old days Tiger Woods had this factor, that when he got on the leaderboard, everyone went “Oh s***” here he comes, and they would start to panic.
‘Well last year you wouldn’t have thought that would have been the issue because you weren’t sure he’d be able to finish and pull it off but yet there they were, bombing it in the water on the 12th, four of them. It was just beyond belief really.
‘The golf gods shined on Tiger last year but nothing he does should surprise you. Whenever you count him out is when he will show you wrong because he loves to prove people wrong.’
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Francesco Molinari faltered under the pressure of the 15-time major winner at Augusta
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