Rory McIlroy's 2013 Struggles Will Continue at Masters in Augusta

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IApril 8, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walks across the 11th green during a practice round prior to the start of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

While all the attention heading into the Masters is on the red hot Tiger Woods, the formely ice cold and most recent major champion Rory McIlroy appears to be moving in the right direction.

The 23-year old phenom, who appeared to be the heir apparent to the crown left by a beleaguered Woods, is entering Augusta with a strong finish at last weeks Texas Open but still boasts concerning statistics, a bruised psyche and clubs that probably should be thrown into Ray's Creek.

McIlroy made headlines early on in the year when he withdrew from the Honda Classic, citing a toothache before recanting and giving the more plausible explanation of mental fatigue.

The deserved scrutiny from the media that followed put a microscope on golf's No. 1 player until Woods' ascension back to the top spot made it clear that only one man will have the spotlight on him this week in Augusta.

McIlroy made perhaps his smartest decision of the season by playing the Texas Open the week prior to the Masters, rather than staying home and licking his wounds. He responded with a top-ten finish, stringing together 72 holes of acceptable golf and, quite possibly, gaining some much needed stability heading to Augusta.

Still, despite some solid play and top-ten finishes, some pressing concerns will ultimately doom McIlroy at this year's Masters.

McIlroy's biggest problem seems to be his inconsistency with the new Nike clubs that he received as part of a big contract he inked after surging to the top of the PGA.

This year, McIlroy is 160th in driving accuracy, 180th in ball-striking and has made only four of 15 putts between 10 to 15 feet on the PGA Tour. His struggles have been alarming enough that even Tiger Woods reached out to motivate the young man.

In his first three rounds at the Texas Open, McIlroy had no fewer than two bogeys every single round and went only one nine-hole stretch without a bogey on the card. That may be good enough to contend and get a nice paycheck at a tour event many top players skip before the first major of the season, but it will not be enough to capture the Masters.

While Augusta is a place where you can make birdies and excite the crowd, it is also a place that can punish wayward drives and result in some big numbers. McIlroy need only to remember his disaster on the tenth hole of the final round in 2011 to know just how fleeting glory can be at the Masters.

Great golfers have been known to turn their games around in the magnolia-lined Masters fairways, but that comes with confidence. Players like Woods and Phil Mickelson find success at crucial times because they never doubt their ability to pull off miracle shots, and, therefore, they take on the course with aggressiveness.

McIlroy is still trying to find his confidence after changing clubs and dealing with a loose swing. Can that confidence really be restored when the pressure is on in a major championship?

Last year, McIlroy entered Augusta with a first, second and third place finish in his first three PGA tour events of the season and still managed to throw up a 76 and a 77 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 40th.

In fact, only three rounds out of 14 rounds has McIlroy been able to break 70 at Augusta. Four times he has shot 76 or worse. Woods by comparison has only shot 76 or worse twice his entire career at Augusta.

At such a young age, McIlroy is still trying to deal with avoiding the big numbers and the big mistakes. The great players find ways to make shots at the most critical junctures, and the greatness of Woods comes from him being able to win despite not playing his best.

That kind of ability takes experience and mental toughness. McIlroy can find it but it is a tall task for anyone at his age to be expected to do it.

Augusta is not where you go to find you game and it is where you go to test you game. The Masters has brought fans countless amazing moments but the magical return of Rory McIlroy will not be one of them this year.

He has the talent and the support of Woods to guide him, but at 23-years old, McIlroy still has some learning to do before he is ready to capture the green jacket.