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Could this be Rory McIlroy’s year at the Masters? Legendary swing coach Butch Harmon has explained how he’s given him a “great chance” of pulling on his first green jacket.

The Grand Slam chasing McIlroy has tried every method of Masters preparation. This year, his build up has involved playing a lot of golf, as well as visiting the 80-year-old Butch Harmon, one of golf’s most revered swing coaches.

Speaking on Sky Sports Golf last night, the charismatic coach explained that he’s worked on two key areas with McIlroy ahead of the year’s first major championship.

“Number one was the backswing which was a little out of whack for him,” Harmon said.

“Not to get too technical, but the right arm was getting too far behind him and if you watch him now, he makes a long waggle and kind of stops, because I had him go to a halfway back position and start his swing, so his right arm got in the right position.

“Then, he could deliver the club back to impact the way we wanted to. You can see the sequence of the body and the release of the club. He started hitting the ball more solidly.”

That change was evident at last week’s Valero Texas Open, where McIlroy finished third, behind Denny McCarthy and Akshay Bhatia, who stormed away from the field.

Before starting his swing, McIlroy takes the club to hip-height in an effort to keep the club on plane. Then, he takes the club back to address before starting his swing. It’s a small move but, as Harmon explained, it helped him to two bogey free rounds in Texas, an area of his game where he has struggled in recent times.

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“The big area was, if you remember at Bay Hill, he made 26 birdies and finished 20th or something,” Harmon continued.

“He was missing greens with wedges and it was always to the left. And I explained to him that if you look at Rory’s swing, he has the most beautiful swing built for hitting drivers. A long and flowing swing, he’s the best driver in the game in terms of accuracy and how far he can hit it.

“Unfortunately, from 140 yards and in, he was still making this long and flowing swing. I explained to him, first of all, your ball flight is too high, so it’s hard to control how far it goes, we need to bring the ball flight down, but to do that we’re going to have to chop off this follow-through.

Butch Harmon Rory McIlroy The Masters
Rory McIlroy is aiming to win his first Masters this week. (Credit: Getty Images)

“If you watch him now, you’ll notice he makes some swings where he just makes a three-quarter follow through. He doesn’t make that big and long follow-through.

“It’s just a simple drill that allows him to feel the position he wants to get to at the top of the swing and he took to it very easily. Rory McIlroy is one of the greatest players in the game, so a small change is what you need. One thing cleaned up about five others which now we don’t need to worry about. We just wanted to go with one thought that helps all the others fall into place and so far, so good.

“Last week his proximity to the hole got a lot better, most of his 9-iron and wedge shots were pin high. He had a good result and he feels very comfortable about what he’s got to do.”

Again, Harmon points to a part of McIlroy’s game that he has struggled with in the past. In 2023, from approach shots from 125-150 yards on the PGA Tour, McIlroy ranked 132nd in Greens in Regulation. With a percentage of 67% in this stat, he was lagging behind the statistical leader, Shane Lowry, who hits over 85% of greens from that distance.

As we know, iron play at Augusta National is crucial and with Rory’s talent from the tee, he can expect to find himself with plenty of mid-to-short irons in his hand this week.

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So, how does Harmon rate his chances of pulling on a green jacket for the first time on Sunday evening?

“If you shoot a two-under 70 on Thursday you’re in great shape,” he said.

“Rory tends to be so aggressive on so many shots. I don’t have a problem with aggressive golf, but there’s a time to be aggressive and there’s a time to play a little safe. That way, you can make a 20 footer from the middle of the green and you still make a birdie. If he can adapt this and really think a lot better about what he’s trying to do and not try and win it on Thursday, I think he’s going to give himself a great chance.

“Now, it’s hard to say who’s going to win this great championship, we all have our favourites, but his game is suited for this course as good as anyone, especially the way he drives the ball.”

McIlroy was due to get his Masters challenge underway at 10.42am local time, but that will now be later, due to a delay in first round tee times. He’ll be playing with Xander Schauffele and hot favourite Scottie Scheffler.

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Lewis Fraser As bunkered’s Performance Editor, Lewis oversees the content that’s designed to make you a better player. From the latest gear to tuition, nutrition, strategy and more, he’s the man. A graduate of the University of Stirling, Lewis joined bunkered in 2021. Formerly a caddie at Castle Stuart Golf Links, he is a member of Bathgate Golf Club where he plays off four.

Performance Editor

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