McIlroy seeks dream ticket to the Masters

Teenager can cap amazing first year as a professional by clinching spot at Augusta

The maths may be complicated but the challenge is ever so simple for Rory McIlroy as he sets out in the heart of the Cape Winelands today trying to become one of the youngest players to qualify for the Masters. The 19-year-old must play decidedly better than he did last week.

While the missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek did not begin to remove any of the gloss of the young Ulsterman's incredible finish to 2008 – in which he has become the youngest professional to pass the £1m mark in winnings – it did leave him in a perilous position coming into the South African Open which tees off this morning at Pearl Valley.

At No 50 in the world rankings McIlroy cannot afford another slip up as only the top 50 will earn berths in the Masters in next Monday's end of year cut-off. In fact, only a top-20 finish in the second oldest national Open, which also includes the likes of Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, would be certain to win him the spot in Georgia.

The rankings are notoriously complex and there are many below McIlroy in the list who could leapfrog him in this the final golfing week of the year, although the main threat clearly comes from the Taiwanese player in 51st place. Lin Wen-teng is just a tenth of a point behind McIlroy and a good showing by the 34-year-old at the Volvo Masters of Asia in Bangkok would see him cruelly deny his young rival.

McIlroy will be particularly wary of Lin's challenge as he lost a play-off to the same golfer at last month's Hong Kong Open. It was the second time in his first campaign as a professional that McIlroy had missed out in sudden death, but that fact hardly marred what was another fantastic week from the teenager whose sweet swing so famously wowed the galleries of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie.

Hong Kong was the sixth tournament out of eight in which he had recorded a top-10 finish, a remarkable performance for such an inexperienced player and one which brought Augusta tantalisingly into focus. He travelled to South Africa last week vowing to secure his berth at the Alfred Dunhill but two rounds of 71 and 72 saw him crash out prematurely. McIlroy then had a nervous wait to see whether he would fall out of the all-important top 50 and had Matthew Goggin won instead of lost a play-off for the Australian Open on Sunday, he would have been playing catch-up in the Cape. As it is, it remains in his hands and yesterday McIlroy was vowing "to play my own game and not worry about the rest".

At 19 years and 11 months, McIlroy would not become the youngest competitor of the modern era to qualify for the Masters – the South Korean amateur Sung Yoon Kim was 17 years, 10 months when he made his debut in 2000 – but as far as the paid ranks are concerned he would be leaving some former European boy wonders in his wake. Seve Ballesteros was a month younger when he first teed it up on Alister MacKenzie's masterpiece in 1977, while Sergio Garcia was four months older when he made his professional bow there in 2000.

While some of the expectations piled on McIlroy when he turned pro 15 months ago were obviously ridiculous, he has all but exceeded the demands he put on himself. In an interview with The Independent in July he said that his goals in 2008 "are to finish in the top 60 of the European Order of Merit and to break into the world's top 100". He dared not whisper about Augusta, then. Now it is just four good rounds away.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Louis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot