They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 1: Rory McIlroy
Born: May 4, 1989, Holywood, Northern Ireland | Career PGA Tour Wins: 9 (10 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 4| 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,883,785 (1st) | World Ranking: 1
2014 Key Stats:
Strokes Gained, Total: 2.266 (1st)
Driving Distance: 310.5 (3rd)
Par-4 Performance: -39 (1st)
Brandel Chamblee's Take
McIlroy, should he win The Masters at age 25, will be the second-youngest player to complete the career grand slam. Of the five men who have won all four of golf’s major championships, Ben Hogan completed the slam when he was 40, Gene Sarazen was 33, Gary Player was 29 and Jack Nicklaus was 26. Only Tiger Woods, who completed the slam at 24, did so at a younger age then what Rory is now. Of those five, three players — Hogan Nicklaus and Woods — completed the slam by winning the Open Championship; Player did so at the U.S. Open in 1965; and only Sarazen completed the slam at The Masters when he won in 1935. Unlike the other majors venues, which rotate from year to year, Augusta National is the home of the Masters, so Rory has the rest of his career to conquer one course and join the most exclusive club in golf.
But there is a reason he has not won The Masters. Rory is a streaky putter but not a great one, and in particular he struggles on really fast greens, which are the distinguishing feature at Augusta National. In the last four years he has averaged more than 30 putts per round at Augusta, and his 125 putts en route to an eighth-place finish in 2014 equaled his worst performance on the greens all year, matched only at the U.S. Open. Nor is Rory great around the greens; he finished 88th and 145th in scrambling the last two years, respectively, and invariably even the best ball-strikers miss upwards of 20 greens through four rounds in vying for the Green Jacket.
But the primary reason why Rory is likely to struggle in getting the fourth leg of the career Grand Slam is his tendency to miss left, and there is a severe penalty for missing left at Augusta. An even greater penalty, though a less obvious one, comes with the timidity that plagues a player who is prone to left misses. At Augusta it’s not the hook that kills you — it’s the fear of hitting the hook. This fear shows up on the par 5s, where Rory made five bogeys last year and played them even par, eight shots worse than winner Bubba Watson, who finished eight shots ahead of Rory for the tournament. It is no coincidence that Ben Hogan didn’t win the Masters until he was 40 years old — a few years after he learned to play the game without the fear of hitting a hook.
The Masters aside, 2015 will be another great year for McIlroy, who has done what everyone is trying to do from a fitness standpoint. In increasing his flexibility and strength, his swing has gotten longer and faster. As a result, Rory has improved his clubbed speed every year he’s been on tour, making his driver one of the most lethal weapons in golf — which, combined with his mile high irons, makes him a threat to accumulate wins at a rate reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his prime.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - 1
PGA Championship - 1
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T8 (2014)
U.S. Open - 1 (2011)
British Open - 1 (2014)
PGA Championship - 1 (2012, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 10
Top-25 Finishes: 15
Missed Cuts: 4
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.