Rory and Jordan ready for a Masters weekend showdownApril 6, 2018 Opinion
Their games and styles of play have little in common – but Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are side by side heading into the weekend. Dan Murphy assesses their chances
Will the 2018 Masters come down to Rory and Jordan?
Rory McIlroy has made eight birdies and four bogeys in two rounds of what have been, by his standards, relatively incident-free days.
Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth has recorded an eagle and nine birdies, plus five bogeys and a double.
And so both Rory and Jordan reach the halfway stage at 140, 4-under, and perfectly placed to challenge for their fifth and fourth majors respectively.
They could hardly have arrived there in more contrasting fashions.
The Northern Irishman, who last tasted such success getting on for four years ago, has driven the ball quite beautifully over the first two days, even by his own high standards.
His iron play has been circumspect and you can almost sense the inner conflict between head and heart. His instinct is to attack every flag but his keen intelligence – not to mention his own bitter experience – tells him that is not the way you win The Masters.
“It’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on,” said McIlroy after his opening round. “If you start to play catch up here, that’s when you start to make mistakes.” Who was he trying to convince – us or himself?
By contrast, Spieth was the man who put his foot on the accelerator on Thursday – not for him the idea of treating the first day as a mere opportunity to manoeuvre himself into position.
An electric run of five successive birdie from the 13th took him to 7 under par and three strokes ahead of the field.
Unfortunately for the Texan, just as some observers, this one included, were beginning to wonder if he had already ruined this year’s Masters as a spectacle, he played his next three holes in 4-over and suddenly he was back in the pack.
Where so many others – witness Phil Mickelson’s spiral into a 79, playing his last 10 holes in +7 – would have fallen away though, Spieth did what he does better than any other golfer on the planet right now.
The rest of the round, on a day of modest overall scoring, comprised 13 pars, a bogey and two birdies – on the back nine par 5s, naturally – for a superbly crafted salvage job of a 74.
It was the recovery of a man comfortable in his own skin at Augusta, and already the owner of a Green Jacket. Rory, meanwhile, is not just trying to conquer his Augusta demons but also to put the final touches to that dearly cherished career grand slam. It’s a lot for any man to bear, let alone one as ferociously ambitious as McIlroy.
“I think quick starts are important in any event. It’s not unique to the Masters at all; it’s any tournament,” said Spieth. “If you get off to a good start, you’re in control of your own fate, versus needing a little bit of help “I think this golf course is a lot easier to play if you feel like you can just hit the centre of the greens and move from there and wait for your chances.
“It’s easy to say that. You kind of want to take that approach starting out, but if you start well, it’s easier to stick to that game plan,” he said.
Broadly, Rory and Jordan, these two mature, mega-talented, driven, intelligent golfers are making the same point. So why do I have a feeling that Spieth is the more likely to stick to his resolution over the next two days?