ANOTHER MASTERS AND another flop for Rory McIlroy, for whom Augusta National and how to play it remain something of a mystery.
The 24-year-old Irishman came into the year’s first major as the tournament favourite once Tiger Woods had pulled out though injury.
But a second round of 77, marked by two double-bogey sixes, sealed his fate and even though he finished well with a 69 on Sunday, giving him a career-best Master finish of tied for eighth, it was scant consolation for what had been otherwise a disappointing week.
McIlroy said that his failure to take advantage of the four par-fives the course offers up for birdies was crucial to his hopes.
“I played the par-fives in even par this week, which you just can’t do out here. I’m even par for the tournament and even par for the par-fives.
“So you’re looking to play the par-fives somewhere around 10- to 12-under par. And obviously if I had done that it would have been a different story.”
Sadly for McIlroy, the story so far in six appearances at Augusta National has always been the same — one of frustration and at times despair.
Three years ago, he took a four-stroke lead into the Masters final round and endured a horrible meltdown down the back nine encapsulated by the image of him slumped over his club head, resting on his hands in reaction to hitting a wild tee-shot on the 13th.
He did quickly rebound from that to win his first major two months later, taking the US Open at Congressional in Washington by eight strokes, and added the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
But Augusta National remains a work in progress.
“It has been a frustrating week because I felt like from tee-to-green I played as good as the leaders,” he said. ”I don’t think I’ve ever played as good tee-to-green around this course as I have this week.
“I feel more comfortable here. I feel like I can go out and play my game and hit the shots. I’m definitely not as tentative around this place as I used to be.
“I’m becoming a lot more aggressive and hitting iron shots closer and I think that’s a good thing because I just feel more comfortable on the golf course. I’m not as scared with some of the trouble, runoffs. Because you know what to expect.”
Next up for McIlroy is Quail Hollow at Charlotte, which he has won before, and the Players Championship before turning his attention to June’s second major of the year – the US Open at Pinehurst.
“It felt really good in Houston. Last weekend, I shot 65. And today was a little better,” he said.
“But at least that gives me something to work on the next couple of weeks heading to Charlotte and obviously building up towards the US Open.”