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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee