by Jeff Skinner
The air surrounding Augusta National was uncharacteristically still on Saturday. The breezes blowing around Amen Corner weren’t the winds that confuse golfers and make then hesitate on club selection, on Saturday they were more likely the winds of change. With a fresh, young lion at the top of the leaderboard it’s easy to imagine that this Masters could signal a true changing of the guard in golf.
Rory McIlroy leads a host of international golfers as he heads into the most important round of golf in his young life. The twenty one year old has played a brand of golf that looks more like a seasoned major champion and not the video game playing twenty something he is. The last time a twenty one year old won at Augusta it was Tiger Woods in 1997 and that win changed the face of golf.
That’s not to say that a win by McIlroy would have the same effect on the game as Woods did but it would indeed be significant. The “youth movement” has taken hold of golf and if McIlroy can follow through today he’ll have made a hell of a case for the new generation of young golfers. Rarely do professional golfers win a major championship at such a young age. But McIlroy has played The National course like he has been playing it for years.
If he is able to withstand the pressure of Masters Sunday and win his first major he may look back on the seventeenth hole on Saturday as the pivotal hole. His tee ball hooked left and ended in the second cut (rough anywhere else) and behind one of Augusta’s trademark trees. He needed to hit a high hook around the tree if he had any chance at salvaging par. He did just that and the ball rolled past the pin to the back of the green. It was an excellent shot that required skill and imagination and McIlroy wants for neither.
The crowning blow was the downhill, double breaking birdie putt that McIlroy sank to move him to twelve under for the tournament. As the ball dropped in the hole he gave an emphatic fist pump, his first real sign of emotion for the entire day. Rory knew it was a huge birdie and it showed. It was more than just a fist pump, it may just be a signal of the change that is on the horizon.