Rory McIlroy appears poised for Masters tilt despite World Match Play upset

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Rory McIlroy looked set to be surging towards his second win of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season at the recent World Gold Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, only to be surprisingly knocked out by Cameron Young in the semi-finals at Austin Country Club in Texas.

The Northern Irishman was two up with three holes to play against the 25-year-old American, but Young levelled proceedings at the 18th and completed the unlikely comeback in the first play-off hole by sinking a 10-foot putt to defeat McIlroy and book his place in the final — which he ultimately lost to compatriot Sam Burns.

It certainly would have been disappointing for the current World No.3 to blow that lead late on in the last four, but he certainly isn’t feeling deflated after what was an almost faultless weekend of golf as McIlroy won all of his other six match ups.

The 33-year-old beat Scott Stallings, Denny McCarthy and Keegan Bradley in the round-robin group stage before dispatching of Lucas Herbert in a bogey-less round of 16 clash and World No.9 Xander Schauffele at the last hole in the quarter-finals.

It was a massive uptick in form from his performance at The Players Championship earlier in the month, when he missed the cut after shooting 76 and 73 to leave him on +5 at TPC Sawgrass, and McIlroy is focusing on the positives ahead of the first major of the year — the Masters, which will take place at Augusta National between 6-9 April.

“There are a ton of positives to take away. If you had told me I would make it to the Sunday of the Match Play last week I would have taken that,” the Ulster native said. “I am maybe going to go up [to Augusta National] for a day and mess around. I went last week but don’t think there is any harm in going up again and then it’s about practice.

“I don’t think there is tons to do. I think my game is in really good shape so just keep it ticking over, work on the shots I need for Augusta and away we go.”

McIlroy has been slashed to the 15/2 joint-favourite alongside defending champion Scottie Scheffler in the golf us Masters odds and appears to have a great chance of winning his first major championship in nine years.

As an added incentive, a victory at Augusta would also see the 33-year-old’s name inscribed in the history books as he’d become just the sixth player after Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Tiger Woods, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus to achieve a career Grand Slam.

There’s also enough evidence to suggest that McIlroy’s performance at the Match Play wasn’t merely a flash in the pan. He changed his putter and the shaft on his driver after a disappointing Players and was reportedly red-hot on that aforementioned practice trip to Augusta National, rumours which he didn’t play down when quizzed. “Yeah, look, I had two good days,” McIlroy added. “We played 54 holes in two days, and it was good. I was really happy with where my game was. It was good to see that after struggling at The Players.”