There are people saying that Rory McIlroy has no chance of winning the Masters this year. His naysayers are pointing to his recent struggles on the green, and a new putting grip he's still getting used to, suggesting the world number three is in no fit shape to tackle the notoriously tricky greens of Augusta National.
Whether or not they have a point is a debate for another time. But one thing's for sure: if McIlroy can keep holing out from 170 yards, as he did during a practice round yesterday, his putting won't be an issue.
Getting his first taste of Augusta for the year, McIlroy was playing a friendly match with Chris Wood, and found himself two up with three to play. Moments later, McIlroy had aced the par-3 16th to close out the match 3&2, and set his week off on a very positive note.
"I don’t think I have ever heard a roar that large in a practice round," said McIlroy. "It was great. It had been a nice practice round and that was a bit of a highlight. It ended the match with Chris, as well."
The 16th, known as 'Redbud', was the site of Tiger Woods' famous chip-in during the 2005 Masters. The roar for McIlroy's ace wasn't quite as loud, but it will be if he can repeat the feat during the tournament.
"The 16th is not a pushover," added McIlroy. "Everyone thinks with the pin on the left it’s a decent chance but you get a pin on the right it’s a tough hole. I played well. I feel like my game is in good shape."
Chris Wood certainly isn't betting against McIlroy:
"He’s a quality, quality player. I’ve played with just about everybody now and Rory is up there with everyone. Very, very impressive. He’s going to be a favourite every year he comes back here and this year is no different."
McIlroy spoke of his interesting decision to play just one ball during practice rounds this week. Players tend to hit multiple balls from various positions during practice rounds, in order to make the most of their preparation time and practise for the variety of shots they may face during the tournament.
"I feel that’s the best way for me to prepare," said 26-year-old McIlroy. "It’s competitive, you’re trying to shoot a score. The pins aren’t in the spots where they are going to be at the weekend but at the same time you still have to get the ball in the hole and hole putts that you feel a little bit of pressure on."