DEREK LAWRENSON: Time for McIlroy to walk in Ballesteros' footsteps

DEREK LAWRENSON: It’s time for Rory McIlroy to walk in Seve Ballesteros’ footsteps once again… if he ends his major drought at the US PGA Championship this week, the lifelong similarities between them will be positively EERIE

  • Rory McIlroy has shared lifelong similarities in his career to Seve Ballesteros 
  • The comparisons will be eerie if McIlroy triumphs at the US PGA Championship 
  • McIlroy is trying to win a fifth major against a backdrop of continued scepticism

If Rory McIlroy ends his majors drought at the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island this week, it will elevate the lifelong similarities with the career of Seve Ballesteros to the positively eerie.

Both men won their first major at the age of 22. Both had hoovered up four majors at the sort of age when most players are winning their first – Rory at 25 and Seve 27 – before their problems both began at Augusta National.

Seve put his ball in the water on the 15th hole at the 1986 Masters to end all thoughts he had entertained to that point that winning majors for fun was his destiny. 


Rory McIlroy (left) ending his major drought at the US PGA Championship would elevate the similarities with the career of Seve Ballesteros (right)

As for Rory, he stopped winning majors the moment the cherished goal of the career Grand Slam, and with it a mental mountain the size of Everest, moved into view at the 2015 Masters.

Ballesteros went on to end his majors famine at Royal Lytham, nine years after his first Open win on the same Lancashire links. His fifth major victory came at a point when many people had written him off. 

Despite his win in America in the build-up to the 1988 edition, one golf writer declared memorably on the eve of that Open: ‘The golden touch has deserted him since capturing the 1984 Open at St Andrews and now the swashbuckling Ballesteros has been relegated to the ranks of the also-rans in majors.’

McIlroy is attempting to win his fifth major on the Ocean Course with a backdrop of scepticism

So to Rory. This PGA staged on the Ocean Course at Kiawah comes nine years after he lapped the field to win at the same venue. He is trying to claim his fifth major against a backdrop of continued scepticism, despite his classy victory in the build-up at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

Like Seve, McIlroy will still start among the favourites. Like Ballesteros, he knows the value of returning to a major venue filled with happy thoughts.

‘With the special feeling I have here, this feeling in the blood, this could be the time I win another major,’ declared the Spaniard, prophetically, before the start at Lytham.

Said McIlroy, following his victory last week: ‘The timing of this win is hugely important before going back to Kiawah, where I obviously did well last time and I can draw on all those good memories.’

Like Ballesteros, McIlroy knows the value of returning to a major venue with happy thoughts

Both men are inspirational performers, drawing energy from their adoring fans. 

Seve won his fifth major against a backdrop of undiluted adulation from the British crowd, with even Sir Nick Faldo, who finished third, having to accept second fiddle in terms of popularity.

McIlroy’s victory at Quail Hollow nine days ago carried distinct echoes, as the locals forgot all about the Americans in the mix and chanted Rory’s name again and again after he holed the winning putt.

Now it is back to Kiawah. On the magnificent Ocean Course, about an hour from Charleston on the South Carolina shore, will Rory get to walk in the footsteps of the great Seve once more?

COUPLAND JOINS BLAND FAIRYTALE

Richard Bland was not the only underdog who had his day at the British Masters on Saturday. How about another Englishman, Dave Coupland, who enjoyed his first top-three finish?

The 35-year-old from Lincolnshire has had more years on the planet than starts on the European Tour. 

He has been back and forth to Q-school on no fewer than seven occasions, and it was not that long ago he was selling shares in himself to try to fund his way.

On Saturday, he rather left those days in the rear-view mirror with a stunning finish to his round. He holed a putt the length of the par five 17th green for an eagle and then another down a shelf in the putting surface at the 18th for a birdie. 

Dave Coupland enjoyed his first top-three finish at the British Masters after a superb showing

The two putts measured an aggregate of 118ft and the difference in the size of his cheque was equally enormous. 

Indeed, the £95,000 almost doubled his lifetime earnings on tour and moved him up more than 50 places in the Race to Dubai to 73rd.

No wonder, like Bland, he found himself spending Monday responding to the considerable number of well-wishers.

‘It might take a while, but I’ll get round to you all,’ he promised.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

‘Winning the US Open has been a lifelong and elusive dream and I have been close so many times. You can’t win if you don’t play, and so I’m honoured to accept the special exemption.’

Phil Mickelson might have ummed and aahed in public but was there really any doubt he would accept an invitation to his hometown US Open in San Diego next month? 

The six-time runner-up in America’s national championship, who will turn 51 on the eve of the event, will now have one last chance at his beloved Torrey Pines to win the major he needs to complete the career Grand Slam.

There was no doubt that Phil Mickelson would accept an invitation to the US Open in San Diego




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