Column: This 1 may hurt even more for Rory McIlroy
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — It wasn’t the collapse from seven years earlier, far from it.
The way things unfolded for Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Masters, though, it may end up hurting even more.
History was at stake, along with the green jacket. If McIlroy could bring it home in the final pairing with Patrick Reed he would become only the sixth man to complete the career Grand Slam, joining names that will long live in golfing lore.
But once again McIlroy’s putter cooled off and he fell flat when it mattered most.
And once again he was left standing alongside the 18th green while another player celebrated a Masters win.
He was so close that he had a short eagle putt that could have tied him for the lead on the second hole. But after missing it he never really looked the same again.
“It wasn’t as if nerves got to me,” McIlroy insisted. “I just didn’t quite have it.”
By the time McIlroy’s day mercifully ended, the bounce in his step was gone, replaced by a dejected look and slumping shoulders. He signed for a 2-over 74 that left him tied for fifth, six shots back.
It also left him shaking his head, trying to figure out why it all went so bad.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to take any positives from it right now, but at least I put myself in the position. I didn’t quite do enough. But, you know, come back again next year and try.”
If it wasn’t 2011, it was another huge opportunity frittered away. McIlroy didn’t blow a four-shot lead in the final round like he did then, but he did blow another huge opportunity.
A day earlier he shot 65 and issued a veiled warning to Reed that three shots was nothing on a Sunday afternoon at the Masters. He said he couldn’t wait to tee it up in the final group.
“It’s the last round of a major championship, and we’re both going for...,” McIlroy said, clearly confident after his third round. “Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for something else. It’s going to be good fun.”
It turned out to be no fun for McIlroy. It was Reed, who would handle the pressure for his first major win, not the Irish player with four major titles already in his display case.
“I played some great golf yesterday,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t continue that golf into today.”
The matchup of Reed and McIlroy in the final group had drawn comparisons to their Ryder Cup match at Hazeltine in 2016, when they traded birdie after birdie before Reed walked off with a 1-up win. Unlike that showdown, where Reed was backed by a huge crowd chanting “USA, USA,” McIlroy was the favorite among the final day crowd.
Reed didn’t mind that because he thought it was McIlroy who would be feeling the heat, not him.
“Honestly, I felt like a lot of that pressure was kind of lifted and kind of taken off of me,” Reed said. “The fans, yes, were cheering for me, but some of them were cheering more for Rory. At the same time, you had a lot of the guys picking him to win over me, and it’s just kind of one of those things that the more kind of chatter you have in your ear and about expectations and everything, the harder it is to play golf.”
It looked hard for McIlroy, who pushed his opening tee shot deep into the trees and made several unforced errors. Mostly, though, it was the putter that let him down as he missed five putts within 10 feet.
And when the putts don’t fall on the final day, there’s not a lot of excuses that can be made..
“I feel like momentum is a huge thing, especially in final rounds,” McIlroy said. “You look at what Jordan (Spieth) and Rickie (Fowler) did. They got on a roll and I didn’t. Patrick and I didn’t at all. We were both around even par, and just sort of grinding out there. And it wasn’t quite what we both had in mind. He just hung in there a little bit better than I did and got the job done.”
It won’t destroy his career because McIlroy is way too talented to allow that. But it will likely damage his psyche.
A player has only so many chances to win the Masters, after all, no matter how good he is. And McIlroy has now let not just one, but two, Masters get away from him in the final group.
Still, he said, he sees himself wearing a green jacket one day.
“Oh, yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve played in two final groups in the last seven years, I’ve had five top 10s. I play this golf course well.
“I just haven’t played it well enough at the right time.”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg