Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler are both battling to make it to Augusta, and Rory McIlroy is rumoured to have hired the best swing coach in the game. Alex Perry is making his own conclusions in this week's Slam
Hello. Welcome to another edition of The Slam. Once again I am finding more reasons to get giddy about Rory McIlroy’s chances of winning the Masters. This week they include Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Pete Cowen and Peter Crouch. (Yes, the footballer.)
Koepka’s woes go on
First off, if you’re a listener to Crouch’s popular podcast then you may have heard a very interesting episode where Crouch and his co-hosts were chatting about rivalries between players within football teams.
Crouch explained how if he wasn’t playing he wanted the player starting ahead of him in his position to have a shocker. The reason being that, even though he wanted the team to win, he wanted to play games.
Fair enough. We’ve all done it at one point or another.
So what’s this got to do with golf? Well, my immediate reaction to the news on Sunday night that Brooks Koepka has had surgery on his knee was that surely he isn’t making the Masters.
The operation to sort a dislocation and ligament damage in his right knee, Koepka told Golfweek, took place last Tuesday and he hasn’t confirmed either way but, although I’m no expert, having someone slice a part of your body open in order to fix it needs a little longer than 20-odd days to get back to full working order.
“Whatever my body says, I’m going to listen,” the World No 12 added.
My next thought was, if Koepka can’t make it to Augusta, that is a huge boost for the likes of McIlroy. I mean, it’s a boost for the entire Masters field, but McIlroy – 10 years on from that meltdown – will be more desperate than ever to see away those demons and finally slip into golf’s most famous item of clothing.
Yes, you’ve got to beat the course as well, but Koepka is knocking on the door at Augusta – his record reads T33, T21, T11, T2, T7 – and it doesn’t matter how friendly you are with someone, if they’re a rival for something you want and they are taken out of the equation, you can only use that to your advantage.
As Crouch spent 45 minutes explaining, if you don’t feel that way, you’re clearly not hungry enough.
When Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch asked him how long the surgery lasted, Koepka joked: “I don’t know, I was asleep.”
How can you not love this guy?
Fowler’s new road to Augusta
Another player with a fine Augusta record that is potentially out of McIlroy’s way is Fowler.
He started the year as World No 53 and it’s been downhill since.
In his 14 starts of the 2021 season so far, Fowler has one top 20 – the Genesis Invitation where he finished in a tie for 20th – and five missed cuts.
The rest has been a constant battle to break 70 – and, in some cases, 80 – and the Californian has plummeted to 92nd in the rankings.
He won’t play in the WGC-Match Play this week – he didn’t get in – and will instead take his wife, Allison, to the Bahamas to celebrate her birthday and, in his words, “decompress for a few days”.
Fowler remains remarkably upbeat and even batted away Sir Nick Faldo’s recent jibe in the kind of calm and collected manner to which we’ve become accustomed.
“I am fortunate to have some great partners and make some great commercials,” he said. “I would much rather be playing the week of the Masters than working.”
He will come back from sunning himself in the Atlantic and and head straight to San Antonio for Texas Open, a tournament he needs to win if he wants to avoid missing his first Masters since making his debut in 2011.
I wonder if Rory will be watching.
Just give Rory the Green Jacket now
Completing the trifecta is a report in the Telegraph that McIlroy has hired Pete Cowen on an official basis. Cowen was seen on the range at both Bay Hill and Sawgrass chatting to McIlroy, but told reporters he was “just giving Rory [his] opinion”.
Now McIlroy has made it a full-time arrangement.
It will be interesting to see what this means for McIlroy’s long-term coach Michael Bannon, who has been with the four-time major champion since he was eight.
I loved this quote from Honda winner Matt Jones, who opened his week with a 61 at PGA National: “I mean, I play golf for a living. I should be able to shoot a good score occasionally.”
It’s always a pleasure to watch Jones play. The guy steps up to his ball and pulls the trigger within seconds.
The poor guy had to play with JB Holmes on Sunday. Thankfully it didn’t stop him getting that second PGA Tour win and, with it, a second invite to Augusta.
- RELATED: What’s in Jones’ winning bag?
Right, that’s enough from me. Enjoy the rest of your week. If you’re in England or Northern Ireland, not long to go now…