An early tee time on Masters Sunday is an affront to the talent of Rory McIlroy, and maybe a lesson. If there is a flaw in his make-up it is his punch resistance. He gives the impression at times of being a chinny golfer. It all went south pretty quickly on Saturday, a bogey at the seventh when three off the lead triggering a back-nine collapse to 79.
Instead of shooting for the stars, therefore, he was in the seventh group out alongside Trevor Immelman, whose time came and went some years ago. Augusta was cloaked in a grey onesie, the flat light contributing to an atmosphere somewhere between a bus stop and a library, a few shuffling comments but nil excitement, at least until McIlroy made his entry.
Sunday is all about the back nine in the late afternoon, so it was a perk of considerable scale for the galleries to cast their eyes over the world’s second-best golfer. He had something to prove to himself, that Saturday was an aberration. Two years ago he declared in Abu Dhabi that his resolution was to make better use of Sundays on weekends when he is not in contention. McIlroy was in a sense preparing for next year, filling the memory with information he might draw down more profitably when it matters.
He will have been pleased with his response. His hitting was clean and his chest out, none of that subdued “get me outta here”’ message he sometimes conveys. A birdie at the second was just the start he needed. He was only a foot from an eagle.
Never mind, he knows how that putt breaks for next time. He was unlucky at the fourth, his tee shot speared straight at the flag was a foot the wrong side of the bunker. He was always looking at bogey from there.
McIlroy is a risk-reward golfer. He was right to give it a go. On the dangerous par five he chose the conservative route off the tee and played a supreme iron to 15 feet on a landing area no more than five yards in diameter. McIlroy’s irons are something to behold, the high ball flight adding to the sense of theatre.
He was straight at the pin again on the 6th, tucked away high on the top right plateau. His ball pitched eight feet below the flag. Perfect anywhere else. Here it skipped into reverse, rolling cruelly down the hill. The underlying theme was heartening because the ball was screaming off the club face. He got up and down and headed to the 7th, the hole where it all started to go pear-shaped 24 hours earlier.
What he would have done to play it like this yesterday. His approach had the galleries dancing as it spun to six feet below the hole. Pity he misread the putt. The birdie would come at the next hole, the result of another pin-sharp approach that he somehow managed to stop on a downslope, the ball gripping the green like Velcro. “Man, I thought he was dead meat, there,” observed one beguiled customer. “Jeez.”
He lipped out for a birdie at 13 before capitalising on the final par-five two holes later. He almost aced the 16th, his tee shot hooking around the pin six inches from the hole. That easy assurance was back. He was slightly out of position down the left on 17, punched his escape right of the green and was up and down without fuss. A par at the last would see him in with a 69, better by 10 shots than Saturday.
As he walked to the scorer’s hut some bloke in red was about start his round. McIlroy’s routing took him around the back of the first tee. The hullabaloo was his to milk two years ago. This time it was Tiger Woods contending in a post-2pm tee shot. “Next year I’ll make sure I’m teeing off after him,” McIlroy said. Their rivalry has yet to flare on the course, but it’s coming. “I didn’t feel like I played too differently today than I did yesterday, but yet the score is 10 shots lower. It’s just the way it is on this golf course. If you get on the wrong sides of the greens and wrong sides of the pins it can make you look silly at times.
“Obviously, I went through a bad stretch of holes there yesterday from 7 to 11, played them in five over, but apart from that I actually felt like I had a decent tournament. But it’s just about trying to limit those mistakes. I’m learning each and every year around here. And I still got plenty of more years to try and get one of those jackets.”
Talking of which, Jason Day made his intentions clear with a birdie at the first and eagle at the second, chipping in and out of the bunker to reach eight under par. The story of the day hitherto had been about the putts that did not drop. Then out races Bernhard Langer opening with three successive birdies to reach five under par. It would get sticky thereafter, but the silence around Augusta was broken.
In the final pairing Brandt Snedeker opened with a birdie to tie Day’s lead before falling back with successive drop shots at four and five. Playing partner Angel Cabrera was up to eight under at the second and, after Day bogeyed the sixth, held the outright lead. This would not be Woods’ day. Bogeys at five and seven left him seven off the lead at the turn.
At the 12th, outgoing champion Bubba Watson was busy leaving his stamp on the final day, and not a miracle shot in sight. Watson ran up a 10 at the par-three 12th and that with a 20-footer to close out. His embarrassment was shared by Kevin Na, who passed through Amen Corner with the same score, still three shy of Tom Weiskopf’s record 13 at the wicked par-three in 1980.
Augusta final-round scores
The Masters, Augusta National GC, Georgia: Leading final-round scores (US unless stated, par 72): 284 T Olesen (Den) 78 70 68 68;
285 S Garcia (Sp) 66 76 73 70; L Westwood (Eng) 70 71 73 71;
286 J Huh 70 77 71 68;
287 N Watney 78 69 68 72; D Johnson 67 76 74 70; E Els (SA) 71 74 73 69; D Toms 70 74 76 67; F Couples 68 71 77 71;
288 BGrace (SA) 78 70 71 69; H Stenson (Swe) 75 71 73 69;
289 S Stricker 73 70 71 75; J Dufner 72 69 75 73; B Haas 71 72 74 72; B Van Pelt 71 74 70 74; GFernandez-Castano (Sp) 68 74 73 74;
290 B Langer (Ger) 71 71 72 76; C Schwartzel (SA) 71 71 75 73; S Cink 75 71 73 71; MThompson 73 71 79 67; R McIlroy (Nirl) 72 70 79 69; J Furyk 69 71 74 76; F Jacobson (Swe) 72 73 72 73; J Rose (Eng) 70 71 75 74; L Donald (Eng) 71 72 75 72; R Sterne (SA) 73 72 75 70.