The Masters: Putting holds key to McIlroy's green jacket bid


Almost five years have passed since Rory McIlroy began the final round of the 2011 Masters holding a four-shot lead, only to tumble out of contention courtesy of a closing 80.

Since enduring that painful Sunday collapse - epitomised by an abysmal tee shot at the 10th en route to a triple bogey - McIlroy has firmly established himself as one of golf's leading lights, claiming four major titles and spending 95 weeks as the world number one.

However, one prize has continued to elude the superstar from Northern Ireland's very own Holywood.

Victory in the 2014 Open Championship put McIlroy within touching distance of becoming only the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam by winning all four modern-day majors.

Yet, although he followed up his maiden Open success with a second triumph at the US PGA Championship, his first shot at wrapping up the Slam proved unsuccessful as Jordan Spieth romped to victory at Augusta.

Much hype surrounded McIlroy's bid for glory 12 months ago, only for Spieth to steal the limelight with a stunning, record-breaking display.

This year, the task in front of McIlroy appears tougher than ever. Spieth will be expected to put up a strong defence of his crown, world number one Jason Day has won on his last two starts and former winners Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel are all high on confidence following recent victories.

Nevertheless, there is certainly reason to believe a first green jacket could come the way of Europe's biggest golfing star on Sunday.

As Spieth stormed to victory in 2015, McIlroy came on strong over the weekend, shooting 68 and 66 to claim fourth - his best finish at Augusta and a second successive top-10 placing after he had tied for eighth the previous year.

The 26-year-old has yet to win this season, but his run to the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play a fortnight ago followed top-six finishes at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Dubai Desert Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship.

More significant, perhaps, is McIlroy's increased belief on the greens in the wake of his switch to a cross-handed putting stroke.

Augusta is renowned for providing the stiffest test when it comes to putting and McIlroy may now have found a formula that enables him to prosper with the flat stick at one of golf's most iconic venues.

After beating Kevin Na at the Match Play, McIlroy said: "I keep saying there's a reason that I switched putting grip.

"The putting feels really good. It's very solid and I'm really happy with that. Obviously it's a great asset going to Augusta."

Spieth delivered a putting masterclass to add his name to the list of Masters winners. If McIlroy gets things going on the greens, do not be surprised to see him end the week wearing the colour synonymous with the year's first major.