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McIlroy the Long Range Sharpshooter

May 4th, 2010 · No Comments

When the Legend of Rory McIlroy is written one day, it may say that he was the modern day Robin Hood of golf, a long range marksman without peer.

Consider the evidence from Quail Hollow: With three holes to play and the threat of his third straight missed cut looming, he smoked a 4-iron into the wind from 210 yards to within 6’7” to set up an eagle putt, which he holed. He parred the last two to make the cut right on the number.

He followed what he called “The most important shot of the year” with a display of long range accuracy on Saturday that may be unparalleled in tour history when he two putted for five birdies! Here is how he did it:

Saturday - (hole – yards to green of approach shot – length of putt)
7 205 to 21’ 7”
8 293 to 14’ 11”  (nearly 300 yards to within 15 feet!!!)
10 263 to 61’ 7”
14 318 to 76’ 9”  (short of the pin but almost perfectly dead on line)
15 251 to 52’ 5”  (on line, but past the pin)

Five irons, 3-woods, driver, whatever, when you give McIlroy a long shot into a par four or five, he’s he anything but a long shot to hit the green.

The accolades for Sunday’s final round are much deserved because he shot four lower than on Saturday, but thanks in part to those five greens hit in under regulation, he actually took two fewer shots (just 34!) to reach all 18 greens in the third round.

On Sunday, with the tournament on the line, McIlroy again displayed his marksmanship. On the par five seventh he reached the green from 232 yards and two putted from 61 feet for a birdie. The tournament winning shot came on the par five 15th. After a monster tee shot of 352 yards that split the fairway, he nailed a 207 yard five iron uphill to 3’6” for an eagle.

The obvious conclusion: McIlroy could not hit the ball that far, that straight, that often, under pressure, without having an incredible swing – a swing that over the course of 72 holes gives him a sizable edge over his competitors.

So, when young McIlroy’s swing is in the groove, he has the ability to, pardon the cliché, turn par 72 courses into par 68s or less if they have drivable par 4s, as at Quail Hollow.
In his early years Tiger Woods feasted off his combination of distance and accuracy to win majors at an alarming rate, including his 7 for 11 from 1999-2002 (six coming on par 72 courses). Could young McIlroy be poised to follow his lead?

Indeed, if McIlroy can consistently bombard the longer holes as he did at Quail Hollow, he will be able to build a winning edge over 72 holes in the majors. Case in point is St. Andrews, site of this year’s Open, which is a par 72 with several reachable four pars. If McIlroy’s long game is hot at the Old Course, he could win his first major title by two putting for some ungodly number of birdies.

For you stat lovers, I noticed that McIlroy finished 4t in GIR, hitting 75% of the greens. Ross Fisher led with 78%, but shot a 289 to McIlroy’s 273. How could that happen when Fisher beat him in GIR? It turns out that it took McIlroy only 153 shots to reach the 72 greens compared to 160 for Fisher, an advantage McIlroy built with his long range accuracy and power. In short, GIR is a flawed stat because it fails to give credit for hitting greens in less than regulation. If GIR made the proper adjustment, McIlroy’s GIR would have soared to 88% for the week to Fisher’s adjusted mark of 78% (same as before).

Jack Nicklaus and Woods have said repeatedly that “winning breeds winning.” With his game, and the way he closed at Quail Hollow with his foot firmly planted on the accelerator, it will come as no surprise if McIlroy soon develops the habit.

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