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Stephen Gallacher column: I won’t be so foolish as to predict Masters champion – but I’d love to see Rory McIlroy in contention

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tees off on the third hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Augusta, Ga.
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tees off on the third hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Augusta, Ga.

I got my last major prediction so spectacularly wrong I’m going to be non-committal with my tip to win the final major of the year, the Masters.

Just thinking on Augusta as the venue for the last major seems weird and it is clear this year’s edition in Georgia is going to be unlike any other.

For starters, whoever wins will only have the honour of donning the green jacket for six months before the tournament rolls around again next Easter – but, after the year we’ve had due to Covid-19, we should be grateful just to see the event taking place.

I was so sure Bryson DeChambeau couldn’t overpower Winged Foot to win the US Open in September and ended up with egg on my face as he strolled his way to the first major win of his career.

Bryson DeChambeau, of the United States, reacts after sinking a putt for par on the 18th hole to win the US Open Golf Championship.

The big shock wasn’t that he won – it was the manner in which he did it that took me by surprise.

I won’t make the same mistake of discounting him this week, that’s for sure, and, if the reports of the irons he was using on the longer holes in his round with Sandy Lyle are accurate, we’re in for some incredible golf.

Honestly, the thought of him hitting seven, eight or nine irons on the par-five holes is outrageous and I won’t believe it until I see it for myself.

His doubters claim they don’t know if his putting is good enough, but if his driving yardages are even close to what is being suggested, then I’d argue it doesn’t matter if he is a good putter or not.

If he is driving fairways then hitting wedges into holes then he’s going to be at least 12 under without even breaking sweat as the course will be playing like a par 68 for him.

I love the Masters. It reminds of me of staying up late as a young lad watching and I’ve enjoyed reliving some of the great moments. Tiger Woods’ win in 1997 was one I enjoyed as it was a time he was so good he made it look easy. His win led to the tees being changed.

I still believe, and history backs me up here, that a good track record around Augusta counts and I’d love to see Rory McIlroy in contention.

Much will depend on the weather. It has been unseasonably warmer than predicted, but with rain forecast it could play longer and softer depending on how the course holds up and I’m curious at how a two-tee start will affect proceedings.

But if you are looking for a new major champion then Jon Rahm has to be in the running. He was fourth two years ago and I expect him to be one of the leading contenders this week.

My heart goes out to Garcia

All good things must come to an end, but my heart goes out to Sergio Garcia after he was forced to pull out of the Masters.

It has been an incredible 21-year run for Sergio, but it was halted by coronavirus after he tested positive and had to pull out of the event on Monday.

Sergio loves playing there – his daughter is called Azalea for goodness sake – and I know he will be gutted at missing out. The only saving grace is he won’t have long to wait until his next chance comes around in April next year.

I know many of the guys taking part this week have been extra cautious in the build-up to the tournament. There were fans in attendance at Houston last week which led to several players locking themselves in their room unless they were on the course. It’s proof yet again, if needed, of just how downbeat 2020 has been for us all.

Bob’s first title was richly deserved

The world is Bob MacIntyre’s oyster after clinching his first European Tour title on Sunday.

His win at the Cyprus Showdown on Sunday was a richly deserved one and to record your first win in 45 attempts is not bad going at all.

I’ve said many times in this column your first win is the toughest and Bob’s wait was a little longer than expected due to the season being interrupted by events outwith his control.

A win was the natural progression for him after he had several good chances to win last year in his rookie of the year season on tour.

Golf: Robert MacIntyre details how he ‘struggled mentally’ during lockdown before recapturing form to claim maiden European Tour win

The format suited him as he is an aggressive player and he’ll feel a weight has lifted from his shoulders after finally getting across the line. It reinforces he is doing everything right and the next challenge for him is to move up the rankings and become a regular in the majors.

He has all the talent and more importantly he does not let his success go to his head. That is why he has been tipped for stardom by many and I am not going to disagree with that assessment.

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