Through Amen Corner, Rory McIlroy was a man with old news on his face, all the laments of the past echoing again with new urgency.
You pay dearly here for the smallest hiccup of lost concentration, and in no time the day is over, its possibilities stillborn. So yesterday he had it in that little bogus corner down by Rae’s Creek.
On a day when Augusta National had collared up against the stiff westerly wind, par-golf would have had Rory fighting for a tournament that red fingers wouldn’t turn.
But a bogey on 10 followed by a double on 11 rolled that story into another elegy for the elusive career grand slam. Why these hiccups are reappearing so routinely right now is an abiding mystery.
Is his game marked by fear? Could it be that he has so much bad cargo on his mind in Augusta that it has become a place where he can almost hear jackals giggling in the azaleas?
You suspect tensions in Rory, evident in the myriad gestures he adopts to imply the opposite. The almost jaunty thrust of his hips as a putt slides past. The sinister grin. Shaking his head as if startled by yet another list of glitches.
On Thursday, he expressed optimism about a “stress-free round” in that increasingly familiar way that almost takes him to the suburbs of insanity.
He topped the charts in terms of driving distance, and when he mentioned how he “had hit 12 fairways and 14 (it was 13) greens,” Rory explained that given the quality, he didn’t really care where he is ranked by his ball shot.
It was an argument with gaping gaps in it.
At the top of that ranking was Sungjae Im (43rd within driving distance), followed by Cameron Smith (58th). And once again it was Rory’s short game that was crying out for attention and now maybe honesty. His wedge play remains extraordinarily awkward for a player of his status and he was a long way behind with his putter (ranked 69th) compared to Im (ranked 23rd) and Smith (ranked 8th).
McIlroy in the microcosm?
He missed a 12-foot birdie on the first yesterday; then he dug out a notable birdie on two after carving his drive into trees on the right. We were already racing down the path of schizophrenic golf again.
On three this beleaguered wedge left him short and down in a trough from where he just managed to save the green with his third. On a five he was left wide off the tee and eventually three putts for bogey from the rim. At eight? Far right again, would do well to save a par.
And yet and yet . . .
McIlroy turned around one to finish 25th in the tournament and just five behind leaders Im, Smith and Danny Willett. Treading water yes, but somehow still afloat.
But then when he found a bunker to the right of ten he couldn’t sink from seven feet for par, and when he leaked his approach to eleven right and into the gallery he eventually needed three putts to come down from twenty feet for a clumsy double .
Birdies came on the 13th and 16th, but in between another terrible drive on 15 had him slamming his club into the tee box in frustration.
Global affection and priceless wealth are no defense against the deep frustration McIlroy endures so palpably when momentum keeps slipping from his fingers.
This rider has now turned full-on sociopath and his miss was spot on at eighteen, forcing him to climb par for a second straight 73 with the excitement of a man now struggling to keep a year from simply turning into a other things take over when he comes here.
How much the career grand slam plays out in his mind is a moot point, but the suspicion is that it presents him with some sort of psychic dumbbell with which he struggles to get off the ground.
In 2019, McIlroy admitted, “I think sometimes I’m too much of a fan of the game because I know exactly who won the Grand Slam and I know exactly the people I would take on.
That might be part of it (the pressure).
“If I didn’t know the history of the game and I wasn’t such a fan, it would work in my favor. But that’s not me.
“I feel like I’m good enough to join these guys (Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods) and that it would just be a very proud moment in my life and something to go on.” that I could look back on . And I’d like to be at the Champions’ Dinner when I’m 92.
“Believe me, I’m motivated to make the most of what I have and put my name among some of the greats of our game. I’m gonna bust my ass and I probably won’t win. Do I want to? Yes.
“Do I have to do that? No.”
With no one seriously attacking at eye level, he’s – technically – still in contention here. But there certainly needs to be some elemental shift in his game to make the weekend memorable.
Every aspect of his game seems prone to contradiction, and that’s not a formula for winning a green jacket. He probably had to be in red last night, given the caliber of the men who were, and behind the veil of his words one has to assume Rory knows it.
The psychology of true greats takes them to an advanced place where history is about to be made. You have the ability to stand on a stage hemmed in by thousands with no one to see.
McIlroy today suspects that he sees too much.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/us-masters/rory-treads-water-as-breezy-augusta-bares-its-teeth-41536099.html Rory treads water while airy Augusta bares her teeth