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Player and McIlroy play the Generation Game

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Iain Carter | 22:19 UK time, Monday, 6 April 2009

It's not often that Rory McIlroy is knocked off his confident teenage stride, but his eyebrows nearly went into orbit as he contemplated the longevity of Gary Player's Masters career.

As the Northern Ireland wunderkind prepares to take his Augusta bow, Player is readying himself for his 52nd and final appearance in the first major of the year.

"Gary has been a tremendous competitor for, I don't know, since the sixties would it be?" McIlroy began.

"The fifties," came the response from the assembled hacks in the press conference room.

"Fifties? Really?" said McIlroy as the eyebrows experienced lift-off.

But as is the way with the 19-year-old, he quickly recovered his composure. "I think it's great to see him here every year. The golf course has got extremely long for him these days, but I think last year he shot 77 or 78 in the second round.

Rory McIlroy, Augusta, Preview Day One

"So you know he could still play. I think it's great that at this event you could see all the past winners: they can come back and they can play. It just makes it a little more special and a little different.

"That's what the Masters is all about," McIlroy added.

The recent winner of the Dubai Desert Classic handled all the questions that came his way with such aplomb you could be forgiven for thinking he was a Masters veteran, not making his first visit to the media centre.

Never mind that his afternoon press conference had initially slipped his mind, forcing him to rush his practice round in the company of 2003 champion Mike Weir and fellow debutant Oliver Wilson.

Player, meanwhile, has been a regular fixture in the press building for more than half a century - but not for much longer. "I just wanted to say to my friends in the room here, because I've known them for a long time, that I've decided to make this my last appearance in the tournament," the 73-year-old said.

Recalling his first appearance in 1957, Player said: "I doubt whether I had $5,000 to my name and I drove through these gates and you can imagine I was in absolute awe and overwhelmed in fact."

The nine-times major winner and three-times Masters Champion remains rightly proud of the fact that he's been able to make the annual journey to Augusta for so long.

He retains a washboard stomach that would be the envy of many of today's top pros. "It is encouraging when you have exercised as hard as I have and watched my diet pretty well, that I am able to play 52 Masters.

"I stood on the tee last year and I thought, damn it all, most of my friends at 72 are dead and I'm playing at the Masters. Most guys at my age have not seen their knees, never mind their private parts, for seven years.

"There's a lot of feeling going on. At least I can see where I am!"

Thanks Gary - just a bit too much information.

As is always the case at the start of Masters week, Augusta is one big talking shop under the giant oak tree outside the clubhouse.

Oaktree, clubhouse, Augusta

1991 Champion Ian Woosnam was one of the more outspoken as he gave his views on the European Ryder Cup scene.

Woosnam, who lost out on the captaincy for next year's match at Celtic Manor, believes the man appointed instead has already made a mistake because of the way Colin Montgomerie announced that Jose Maria Olazabal would be his vice-captain.

"I was a little bit disappointed I didn't get it but I'd had my go and fair enough, it's the players who voted for Colin and he's the right man for the job," Woosnam said.

"You don't really want to get things wrong to start off with. I think what Colin should have done was ask Jose before he said anything and you don't want to upset your players straight away.

"Jose is still a good enough player to make the team and it's hard for him to make that decision on wanting to be vice-captain."

Woosnam also urged Montgomerie to make sure he has stronger back-up than Nick Faldo had for the last match in Valhalla.

Plenty of time to discuss the Ryder Cup in the coming months, so bringing it back to this week, it was nice to see an Englishman pictured on the front page of the Augusta Chronicle at the start of Masters week.

It wasn't Paul Casey in the wake of his fine Houston victory, but Oliver Wilson - a former Augusta State University student.

Wilson in turn was delighted to see current local student Taylor Floyd become the first home player since the Mansfield man to win the prestigious Augusta State invitational.

Wilson won it in 2003 - six years on he's making his Masters debut and his toughest task is handling all the local well-wishers as he completes his preparations.


  • Comment number 1.

    First off i hope McIlroy does well, his game is certainly suited to the course but i'm not sure he's not quite ready mentally to get round without slipping up, if he can curb wanting to take dead aim at every opportunity then i think we could see a top-20 finish or so.

    As for Player, been a great servant to the game. But why is he 'competing'?! It can only be for him and him only, the crowds don't want to see an old legend struggling to break 90 if the conditions are bad, the only person that is going to enjoy him being there is Player himself. It's sad to see that the likes of Player, Palmer etc simply turn up because they can, that they don't think shooting a pair of 87s is detrimental to their legendary standing in the game.

    Why can't Augusta have a cut-off limit for past winners?! Something like when you get past 62 you have had to have played X amount of senior tournaments and have finished in the top 30 on the senior's money list?

  • Comment number 2.

    As I am from Northern Ireland, I hope McIlroy has a great tournament. It would be excellent to see him gunning for victory down the stretch. What I like about the masters, is that the cream most definately comes to the top. How many times have somewhat 'unknowns' competed for and sometimes won the Open (Curtis, Hamilton, Rocca..etc). For me this is what makes the masters special, not to mention the fact the course looks simply immaculate on the TV!

    In response to the comment by coxy0001. I ask you this, where would the game of golf be, without the likes of Player, Palmer, Nicklaus? The answer: Nowhere. He and his compatriots have earned their right to appear at Augusta year after year, and long may that tradition continue.

  • Comment number 3.

    More to the point, who adds more to the tournament, Gary Player or the journeyman player who would be in if he didn't play (actually this year the argument falls down a little, as the person who would be in is Davis Love, but you catch my drift)? Joe Pro who is not otherwise qualified is not going to win the Masters; Gary Player is one of the greatest golfers that ever lived. I know who I would rather watch.

  • Comment number 4.

    There is no journeyman who would play if Player didn't. If a player is qualified he is invited; if not, as is the case for Davis Love, he is not invited. There is no set limit to the number of invitations. Player, or any other past champion, is not taking a place away from anyone.

  • Comment number 5.

    My previous comment is a little simplistic. The Masters is an event run by a private club (not the PGA or the PGA Tour). As such, the tournament committee could issue invitations to anyone they wanted in the tournament. In practice, they pretty much stick to the qualification rules they have announced - recent exceptions being a couple of Asian players who were not otherwise qualified.

  • Comment number 6.

    Was the rule of past winners getting automated designed so that a 72 year old can pitch up and shoot 80+, i think not.

    Yes Player and Co can turn up, are they doing the tournament any favours in doing so though? He also has to play with 2 other guys for 36 holes, can you imagine how it must feel for a guy trying to shoot a score when you've got the negative of an old boy shooting some cricket score??!

  • Comment number 7.

    It would be an unbelievable achievement if Rory could claim the Green Jacket on Sunday.

    It is unlikely, but not impossible.

    His caddy, J.P. Fitzgerald, has worked with some of the world's best and knows Augusta as well as he does Baltray...

    His form in the States has been superb: five starts and he has yet to finish outside the top twenty.

    He will not be over-awed by the occasion, as we saw at the Open in 2007.

    A more realistic target for Rory is to first make the cut and then work towards another top twenty.

  • Comment number 8.

    Only one man to win it this year. Hunter Mahan. get on him.


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