McIlroy escapes bunker mentality to finish well

Rory McIlroy finished an eventful Masters debut in brilliant style as he came home in 31 strokes in yesterday's fourth round. The Northern Irish youngster was already assured of being the low teenager for the week after his fellow starlets, Ryo Ishikawa, 17, and Danny Lee, 18, both missed the cut.

But the 19-year-old McIlroy had his dramas on Friday as he dropped five strokes in the last three holes to fall to the cut line and was then called in by the Masters rules committee to explain his actions in a bunker at the last hole. His explanation that he was smoothing over the sand, and not kicking at it in anger, was accepted and McIlroy played on.

Yesterday he seemed to be suffering from all the excitement of his inaugural Masters week when he suffered two bogeys and a double-bogey, at the short sixth, in the first eight holes. But McIlroy then picked himself up and produced some superb shot-making as he collected six birdies in the last 10 holes. "It was a great way to finish the week," McIlroy said. "Coming up the ninth I said to my caddie that I didn't want to shoot 40 on the front nine so I wanted to get a birdie there and then try and come home in 30."

McIlroy missed that target by one but made birdies at the 11th, the two par-fives, the 13th and 15th, then the short 16th and the 17th. He finished at two under par in his first ever major championship as a professional. "I know I have the game to play well in majors," he said.

"It was a pretty good first Masters but I was hoping to do a little better. Hopefully, I can do better in the last three majors of the year."

McIlroy played very steady golf for the first 33 holes of the tournament to get on to the leader board but only briefly. Then followed a four-putt at the 16th and he left a shot in the bunker at the last while collecting a seven.

"If I'd had the finish today on Friday then I would still be out there now," he suggested, "but I've learnt a lot more about the course for next time and the influences on the greens. I also learnt not to dance in the bunkers, he added"

Padraig Harrington's quest for a third successive major came to an end on Saturday with a nine at the second hole. He battled back for a 73 and finished with the same score yesterday after a triple-bogey seven at the ninth.

Even Tiger Woods says he has never won a major without having luck on his side and it was very definitely not with Harrington here in Georgia this week. But that will not stop the Dubliner being ready to take advantage if things start falling his way at the US Open in June.

Can the same be said for Sergio Garcia? Going into the weekend here, Harrington and Garcia seemed once again to be Europe's strongest contenders for major honours. But apart from nine holes on Friday afternoon, Garcia has not found form this season and once more he is fretting over his putting. There were four putts on the fourth green in yesterday's. 74 so it is still a work in progress.

Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champion, played with Harrington yesterday and beat him by two strokes while Paul Casey closed with a 69.

Casey arrived having won for the first time in America at the Houston Open. But yesterday was the first time his game came right. "I really wanted to be involved at the pointy end of the tournament as I love it here, so it was frustrating not being up there," he said.

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