Perhaps a new coach and a fresh outlook would transform Rory McIlroy's Augusta fortunes. Unfortunately, writes Dan Murphy, it was the same old story
At exactly what point did you lose the faith while watching the latest instalment of Rory McIlroy’s Masters struggles? Was it when the par attempt on the 5th never sniffed the hole on its way past? Or as his recovery shot on the 7th hit his dad, Gerry, of all patrons, 40 yards short and right of the green? Maybe watching his second to the 11th head inexorably towards water? Certainly, by the time he got wet for a second time, in Rae’s Creek in front of the 13th green, the game was up.
Head in his hands, looking at the ground, we have seen this pose before in Georgia.
Who can forget that awful moment on Sunday afternoon in 2011 on the 13th tee when his four-stroke overnight lead had long evaporated and still his long game continued to unravel. A grown man, one of the world’s pre-eminent sportsmen, reduced to the helpless status of a toddler with a grazed knee and a spilt ice-cream in search of solace from his mummy.
It’s debatable whether McIlroy has ever – or will ever – recover from the ordeal.
Augusta National can do that to you.
Just ask Greg Norman – second three times, third three times, fourth and fifth once apiece.
Retief Goosen – second twice, third twice.
Ernie Els – second twice, fifth once and sixth twice.
David Duval – second twice, third once, sixth once.
Lee Westwood – second twice, third once, sixth once, seventh once, eight once.
All serial contenders here but not a single Green Jacket between them to show for it.
In the decade since McIlroy’s Masters meltdown, he’s finished in the top 25 every year bar one, and posted six top 10s in the process. In truth, though, he has rarely threatened to end the week in the Green Jacket he craves. Even three years ago, in the final group on Sunday alongside Patrick Reed, his chance to win had gone some time before the closing stretch.
He’s arrived having discovered yoga, juggling, mindfulness, armed with the nappy factor.
He’s played every week in the build-up to distract himself. He’s come here lightly raced to preserve energy. He’s played extra practice rounds. He’s arrived late and largely stayed off the course until Thursday.
Perhaps the only thing left was to try being horribly out of form, confidence shot and one week into a relationship with only the second swing coach of his entire career.
Maybe it would do the trick – for once, he was not at the top of the betting, not the centre of attention, and not the darling of the media.
And yet the results were horribly familiar, despite the presence of the Man in Black, Pete Cowen, by his side on the practice ground.
Six bogeys, two birdies and a 76.
Perhaps not yet quite of it for another year, but closer to that than the Butler Cabin.
Paul McGinley, McIlroy’s countryman and Ryder Cup captain in 2014, said that this showing was nothing to do with the particular strains and stresses of the Masters. Simply that McIlroy is an emotional golfer whose form comes and goes. Right now, he’s struggling. Come back in a month and he’ll be fine.
Perhaps. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Rory looked like he was waiting for this to happen. And it won’t be any easier for him next year to conquer his Augusta demons, no matter what shape his game is in.
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