The Confidence From AP Invitational Win Could Spur Rory McIlroy to Augusta Glory

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is surging with confidence after securing his first win in 18 months with a magnificent performance at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The victory came at the perfect time of year and it could be just the shot in the arm he needs to propel him to glory at The Masters. The Northern Irishman has not won a major since 2014, and The Masters is the only one to elude him, but a fired up McIlroy is enough to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. Punters have responded by backing him in their droves and McIlroy is now the favourite to claim victory in Augusta next month.

In the Sporting Index lines he is ahead of stars like world number one Dustin Johnson, 2017 Golfer of the Year Justin Thomas, Augusta specialist Jordan Spieth and a resurgent Tiger Woods. McIlroy’s talent has never been in question, but he has spent the last 18 months in the wilderness as he battled with injury problems and motivational issues. Now he has roared back to form, and fans are giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing this magnificent player in full flow.

He was brilliant at Bay Hill this week, carding an eight-under-par 64 on the final day to finish on -18, three shots clear of the dogged Bryson DeChambeau. His performance on the back nine was a joy to behold as it looked like the McIlroy of old, a man at the peak of his powers once again. The four-time major winner started the day two shots off the lead, and he was still within touching distance with six holes to go. He birdied five of them and took one par to soar into the clubhouse with an unassailable lead.

The win moved him up from 13th to seventh in the world rankings, and he said: “It’s huge. The shots I was able to hit under pressure, coming down the stretch, the two five-irons into the par-threes on the back nine, the wedge shots, the putts, the drive on 16, the three-wood on 18 after the last three-wood I hit on that hole I hit out-of-bounds left on Thursday. All these little barriers you have to overcome, whether it be physical or mental. Yeah, it’s huge for my confidence going into Augusta. I kept saying I didn’t need a win going into the Masters to feel like I had a chance. Thankfully I’ve now got one.”

He topped an extremely strong leaderboard also featuring Stenson, Olympic champion Justin Rose and Woods, whose comeback continues to capture the imagination. The prospect of McIlroy and Woods battling it out for glory at Augusta is enough to cause goosebumps among fans, but these tournaments rarely stick to the dream script. There are several superstars in contention at Augusta, from Johnson, Spieth and Thomas to Rose, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.

Seven of the last eight majors have been claimed by players that previously did not have one to their name, and that trend could well continue, because there are several hungry and talented players out there that have yet to join the game’s elite. Jon Rahm is a force to be reckoned with, while Hideki Matsuyama will be dangerous and Rickie Fowler’s time must surely come one day.

But heading into the tournament, which begins on Thursday, April 5, the headlines will be dominated by Woods, and now McIlroy too. He has long been fielding questions about Woods, Thomas, Mickelson and Bubba Watson – who also picked up a first win in several years recently – and now he feels it is time for his peers to start worrying about his form. “Look, those guys are my friends, so I’ve been delighted for them,” he said. “JT’s been on a tear the last 18 months; Phil, it was great for him to get the win in Mexico; Tiger coming back. I’ve been happy to answer those questions. I just hope they get some questions about me now.”

That seems inevitable as McIlroy is back in business and that will cause the golfing world to sit up and take notice. His putting appeared to be transformed at Bay Hill after, and Rose was suitably impressed, claiming he has never seen McIlroy putting so well. “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.” He hits the nail on the head: McIlroy is world class and full of confidence, so he can carry that momentum into The Masters and complete the set of majors next month. We all know how good his long game is, and if his putting remains as sharp then he could cruise to victory.