McIlroy now has it all in front of him as he battles into contention
World number two finds some form with his putter in the second round
A swirling wind whistled through the Cathedral pines and the dogwoods to cause some angst and second-guessing on clubs for players in yesterday’s second round of the Masters. But nothing that could sway Rory McIlroy from his task, as he took steps in the right direction – adding a second round 70 to his opening 72 for a midway total of 142, two-under-par – for the even more onerous challenge ahead.
This time, though, McIlroy has been cast in the role of pursuer heading into the final two rounds. A lip-smacking position, perhaps? The weekend will tell a tale but, certainly, McIlroy – having endured a difficult early-season campaign centred on new Nike clubs and a lack of consistency – looked for all the world like a man who knew exactly where he was headed as he negotiated his way around Augusta National on a difficult day.
After his round, he assumed the pose of someone happy in his own body. “Are you searching for anything?” The question hung in the air for a second or two before McIlroy revealed a wide smile and replied, “Lunch. I’m hungry.” Everyone has to eat.
Yet, as he headed for the clubhouse and whatever fare was on offer, McIlroy did so with a renewed purpose. Having battled for much of a first round in near-ideal conditions on Thursday, McIlroy rolled up his sleeves for yesterday’s task where the swirling wind asked some serious questions and had players second-guessing club selection and backing off on shots.
The catalyst for McIlroy's move into contention came on the Par 5 eighth hole where, after a perfect drive, he was left with 275 yards to the pin. He cut a three-wood that surged towards the green, hit the mounds to the left and then ran to within three feet of the tin cup. “I was surprised to see where it finished,” said McIlroy. “You’re looking to get a chip shot that close, so it was nice to get up there and see that ball pretty close to the hole.”
The big difference over the two rounds for McIlroy was his putting: on Thursday, he required the putter on 32 occasions; yesterday, he needed it just 25 times. “It was good. I made a lot of good putts for pars on the front nine,” he admitted. “I mean, I didn’t play my best for the first few holes . . . the eighth hole really got me going, really kick-started me. I stayed patient out there when I needed to and it was a good day.”
McIlroy had started with two bogeys in this opening three holes – at the first and third – before that eagle got him back to parity and, then, on the homeward run he grabbed birdies at the 13th and 14th (dropping a shot on the 16th) and then finishing with a birdie on the 18th.
“The improvement in the putting (from the first round) has been a big thing. I’m committing to my lines a lot better. I think what pleased me was just not letting it get away from me. I mean, two over through three holes and having par putts on the next four from outside six feet and being able to turn in even par was something I was very proud,” said McIlroy. “You needed to be really disciplined out there and know that par was a good score on some holes.”
McIlroy finished on the same midway total as Sergio Garcia. The Love/Hate storyline wouldn't do Garcia any justice around Augusta National. After a brief love-in with the azaleas and dogwoods in Thursday’s opening round, the temperamental Spaniard was back snarling and playing the role of the downtrodden victim as yesterday's second round saw him slip and slide down the leaderboard.
A 66 one day, followed by a 76 the next. A ten shot swing in the wrong direction, a sufficient rebuke to turn a smiling face into a twisted, contorted poor-me expression.
It’s as if, behind all the sweet-smelling flowers of Amen Corner, Garcia finds something toxic in the air. A year ago here, he moaned and lamented of his inability to win a Major and felt his time and had come and gone.
“I’m not good enough. In 13 years (playing), I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
On Thursday, those demons had disappeared. Garcia – who shot a 66 to share the first round lead with Mark Leishman – was, for the most part, upbeat. “Obviously, it’s not my favourite place but we try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here . . . . let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
“Every time I tee off in a tournament, my goal is to play the best I can and have a chance at winning . . . (Thursday) was one of those days that you really enjoy. Hopefully, I’ll have three more of those and we'll see what happens on Sunday night.”
Yesterday, as he strutted on to the first tee with overcast conditions and a swirling wind rustling through the towering cathedral pines, Garcia embarked on a journey of great expectations but, some five hours later, was left to again reflect on how Augusta National – more than any other place – had a propensity to bite him.
Having claimed six birdies in an error-free opening round, Garcia was transformed in his second round as he struggled. He couldn’t buy a putt, nor a birdie. Instead, he fashioned four bogeys to add to 14 pars in signing for a 76 that dropped him from atop the leaderboard and in less mood to talk after dropped shots on the third, fourth, 11th and 14th hit his confidence.