Ricko believes Rory is ready to rumble

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
Lee-on-the-Solent's James Ablett

Practice makes perfect for in-form Ablett

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Rory McIlroy is more than ready to shrug off last year’s US Masters meltdown – according to a man who knows exactly what it’s like to play in the Augusta cauldron.

Lee-on-the-Solent’s Steve Richardson finished in a creditable tied 31st position in his only Masters appearance in 1992 as popular American Fred Couples picked up the coveted green jacket.

Twelve months ago, McIlroy blew a four-stroke lead going into the final round after shooting an eight-over-par 80 to finish 10 strokes behind South African winner Charl Schwartzel.

The Northern Irishman responded with a fabulous victory at the US Open just a few weeks later.

And Richardson believes the 22-year-old – who admits he laughs about his meltdown now – has already exorcised his demons.

Richardson said: ‘I think Rory put it all to bed after winning the US Open. It was an amazing result after what happened at the Masters last year.

‘He straightened it all out but I think he might have a point to prove to himself this year that he can win this event.

‘His game is definitely good enough.

‘It all unravelled for him last year at the 10th. He was struggling before that but then it all went really wrong there.

‘And it might be tricky for him playing that hole. Sometimes you can let thoughts get away from you on the course and you have to check yourself mentally.

‘But he is strong enough to cope with that. He has shown it.’

McIlroy infamously went to pieces with a tee shot that would have embarrassed a 28-handicapper last year at the 10th, but then lifted the US Open by eight strokes to underline his talent and mental strength in real style.

Richardson was impressed by the character he demonstrated but has warned that a rejuvenated Tiger Woods should be back in the frame to test his mental resolve.

‘Rory showed that he can handle the mental side of the game at the US Open. He was incredible there,’ said Richardson.

‘He just went away from the rest of the field. He was calm and never looked like his game was anything other than under complete control.

‘But Tiger’s swing looks great again now. His putting looked back to where it should be when he won the Bay Hill tournament last week and he is piecing it all together again.

‘It seems like he is getting stronger by the week. But you look at Tiger when he has won all of his majors and he shuts everything out. He is just so mentally tough.’

Aside from Woods and McIlroy, Richardson believes Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Gary Woodland are among a long list of potential winners.

He said: ‘It’s going to be a really exciting tournament this year.

‘There are the obvious ones, but it would be great to see Tiger and Rory shooting it out on the Sunday.

‘There are some real power players who make the game exciting – players like Bubba Watson and Gary Woodland, while Phil Mickelson should be up there, too.

‘Hopefully a few of our lads like Donald and Westwood will be in the mix as well.

‘You could look at any of the players up there as potential winners.

‘Anybody in the top 50 is capable of winning. It’s so difficult to pick a winner but it should be great to watch it happen.’