McIlroy must ditch thoughts of Masters glory and prepare to learn from his peers

Neil Trainis EXPECTATION of burgeoning but unfulfilled talent is often overblown in sport and that notion was amplified during the build-up to this year s Masters. Augusta, home to the year s first major, one of four collectively representing the pinnacle of the game

Neil Trainis

EXPECTATION of burgeoning but unfulfilled talent is often overblown in sport and that notion was amplified during the build-up to this year's Masters.

Augusta, home to the year's first major, one of four collectively representing the pinnacle of the game and the litmus test of the temperament and ability of the world's most accomplished golfers, was the setting for one youngster to dare to dream.

No doubt Rory McIlroy, the outrageously gifted teenager who has been lauded by the media and been the subject of grandiose predictions from his peers, has imagined what it would feel like to wear the famous Green Jacket.

In the same way a child weaned on FA Cup finals at Wembley or Champions League showpieces engages in fantasies of lifting those famous trophies in the colours of their team before a packed house and millions more watching on TV, the Northern Irish prodigy has entertained his own utopia.

Of course McIroy's desire for success at the peak of his sport is not far-fetched. He is young but he is no hopeless novice. For someone with the potential and exciting but raw ability he boasts, his desires are not dreamy and could be described as tangible goals rather than fanciful pipedreams.

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Yet his humility, generated by his Ulster upbringing and the sacrifices made by his parents, who worked long hours to nudge open the door of opportunity for their talented son to flourish, makes him appear like a starry-eyed kid instead of a cocksure youth.

"I always got very excited about the Masters as a kid. I could hardly wait until the Wednesday when you'd get the BBC's preview," he said earlier this week as he prepared to play in his first ever Masters.

"And I'd then be glued to the screen until Sunday night. I really got hooked when Tiger won it in 1997 (by a record 12 strokes). I was only eight but I watched every hole that year. I've got the tape and I've seen it so many times I can tell you almost every shot he played."

Woods, arguably the steeliest competitor golf has ever witnessed, is a huge reason for McIlroy to juggle the confidence and exuberance of youth with a sense a perspective.

The American, who has spent the last 12 years tearing up records, has become synonymous with the sport and how to see off opponents with clinical precision. McIlroy, like everyone else in the field, should not anticipate that Woods' propensity for the competitively ruthless has dwindled in the wake of his eight-month recuperation from knee surgery.

Nor should any of his rivals expect his game to have changed detrimentally to the extent that, at the age of 33, he is no longer an irresistible force surging past all in its path. His appetite for glory has not been whetted and, as he bids for a fifth Green Jacket and 15th major in all, it is motivation enough that Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18 looms within reach.

McIlroy may do himself justice by forgetting about pulling on Green Jackets and playing for the title on a final hole play-off a la Costantino Rocca. Confidence should never be dampened but the 19-year-old would do well to remember that he only secured his first win on the European Tour in February with a one-stroke triumph over Justin Rose in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Throw in the likes of Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner of The Masters, Padraig Harrington, with three majors under his belt, and a plethora of other experienced competitors all capable of lasting the pace on their day, McIlroy would be better gearing himself towards bolstering his experience and acclimatising his mind and body to the pressures and demands of golf on the highest plane.

Anything else would represent a bonus. Preserving a sense of reality will not be easy, even for someone as level-headed as the affable youngster. Once he steps on the first tee his arms will undoubtedly be rendered numb with nerves but once he strides down the fairway it will have sunk in; he is competing at The Masters alongside his heroes and he deserves to be there.

A world ranking of 17 dictates that McIlroy is not out of place. Yet the examination he faces will be unforgiving, the margin for error squeezed immeasurably. All of that determines that any delusions of grandeur will certainly be out of place.