Rory McIlroy left to cope with another Major disappointment
After a good first three days, stats show his game was way out-of-sync on Sunday
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt on the 13th hole during the fourth round at the US Masters in Augusta, Ga. Photograph: David Gold(AP Photo/David Goldman)
Rory McIlroy didn’t choose to hide away in the aftermath, to seek refuge from the questions.
As the crowds gathered around the practice green at the back of the first tee at Augusta National, where lines of chairs had been placed in order for the presentation of the green jacket to the Masters’ newest champion Patrick Reed, the disappointed and frustrated Northern Irishman faced up to reality, some of it a harsh one.
His bid for a first Masters, and a career Grand Slam to boot, had – once again, just as it had in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – come up short. The difference this time was that McIlroy, with a fifth straight top-10 finish in the tournament, had manoeuvred into the perfect position going into the final round only to experience one of those bio-rhythm days when nothing goes your way.
“I just didn’t quite have it,” he confessed.
The forensic analysis of McIlroy’s round doesn’t require too deep investigation to reveal just how out-of-sync his final round game was when compared to how he had played for the first three rounds.
In driving accuracy he was down in tied-48th (of 53), in greens-in-regulation he was down in tied-48th, finding eight of 14 fairways and eight of 18 greens. Over the four rounds, he’d finished second only to Reed in cumulative putting, but in Sunday’s final round that too was an area that betrayed him.
On a day when the scoring average for the field was 70.4, McIlroy took 74 shots.
McIlroy will have some time to reflect on this latest shortcoming on the stage he most wants to perform. Ever since capturing the Open in 2014, McIlroy’s springtime visit to Augusta has always carried with it the additional weight of chasing the final leg of the career Grand Slam; and, if there is a consensus that he is too good a player not to eventually claim the iconic green fabric, the tales of others, most notably Greg Norman, confirm the difficulty.
“I’ll sit down, reflect and see what I could have potentially done better. Whether it be mindset, I don’t know? . . . . the last four years I’ve had top-10s but I haven’t been close enough to the lead. I go myself there [this year], I didn’t quite do enough,” said McIlroy in calm and measured tones, attempting to gloss over the obvious disappointment.
The stop-start nature to McIlroy’s front nine – at a time when others were on fire, free-wheeling to birdies with Jordan Spieth cursing that he’d started so far back and then Rickie Fowler charging home strongly – proved his true undoing. On the first, where he played pinball with a number of cathedral pines after an errant tee-shot, and again on the fifth and the eighth, his drives went right.
But it wasn’t just the driving which went awry, so too did his approach play.
As he later explained: “I was trying to hit good shots and good putts and anytime I felt like I hit a decent shot, I either left myself on the wrong side of the pin or gave myself a tricky one behind the hill. And when I did get some opportunities, I didn’t take advantage of them. It was a tough day; but I’ll be back, hopefully I’ll be better.”
McIlroy had stuck to his normal pre-round routine and there were no signs of any issues on the range or on the putting green.
“I had a decent warm-up. I had a bit of a shaky drive off the first but it was a really good up and down for par, and I hit some good shots. I feel like momentum is a huge thing, especially in final rounds. You look at what Jordan and Rickie did. They got on a roll and I didn’t. Patrick and I didn’t at all, just sort of grinding out there. And it wasn’t quite what we had in mind. He just hung in there better than I did and got the job done.”
Even allowing for his consistency at Augusta National in recent years, of them all this was unquestionably his best opportunity to claim the missing piece of the Grand Slam jigsaw.
He’ll be back again next year, trying again, before that the 28-year-old has much on his plate: the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in June is his next Major, when Phil Mickelson will be the one trying to join the Grand Slam club, while the Open at Carnoustie and the US PGA at Bellerive are the other Major opportunities.
Before then, McIlroy is due to launch the official reopening of Adare Manor in a match with Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Paul McGinley later this month and will make his tournament reappearance at the Wells Fargo championship at Quail Hollow, ahead of playing in The Players at Sawgrass and the BMW PGA at Wentworth.