Paul McGinley has played down Thomas Pieters’ chances of becoming the first rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller to win the first Major of the year at this year’s Masters.
Pieters made an inauspicious start to 2017 by missing the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last week and McGinley believes the Belgium has struggled to recapture the form that saw him set a record for most points won by a European rookie during last year’s Ryder Cup.
The 50-year-old told us exclusively: “Thomas has gone from being nowhere near the Ryder Cup to making a late dash for the team and playing unbelievably well at Hazeltine. But then he has gone quiet since.
“He has reached a plateau and now he’s got to consolidate that elevation. Over the next 12 months, he’s got to go to all the Major Championships and play well. It’s unlikely he will go to Augusta and win. He needs to just soak up the experience and get more comfortable in his new, elevated state in the world of golf.”
Pieters, who will be competing at the Dubai Desert Classic next week, earned his Masters invitation after ending 2016 inside the World’s top 50.
However, the 25-year-old has now failed to finish inside the top 10 in any of his last six European Tour events, a statistic which McGinley believes shows a “lack of consistency”.
Nevertheless, the Irishman has seen enough to suggest Pieters can rediscover the form that delivered three top-four finishes in as many tournaments last summer, including victory at the Made In Denmark.
“He has it technically, there is no doubt about that,” said McGinley. “He is still very young but he has a very strong dynamic in his game which is good enough to win a Major Championship. But I think the next 12 months are just about taking his game to the next level. If he can get another big win along the way somewhere, that would be tremendous for him. I wouldn’t write it off.”
The 2014 Ryder Cup captain was speaking ahead of the 2017 Abu Dhabi Invitational at the Yas Links Club this weekend, where he will skipper a team of 20 tour professionals against a star-studded celebrity team, captained by Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel.
The two-day charity event begins with an Amateur Championship today (Saturday) and brings together stars from the world of sport and entertainment. The guest list includes cricketers Jimmy Anderson and Brian Lara, four-time Olympic gold medallist Matt Pinsent and pop legend Ronan Keating.
The celebrities will then compete in a Ryder-Cup style fourball format on Sunday (January 29), where they compete against a professional team featuring Thomas Pieters, Ian Poulter and Matt Fitzpatrick.