AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Even in the most illustrious of careers, there comes a point when an athlete’s many achievements are overlooked as attention is drawn to one nagging failure. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, Tiger Woods. Early in his career, he swept every notable title several times. Roger Federer, as well. But, as Dan Marino will attest, there are individuals for whom that remark holds true. Charles Barkley, for example.
That that explain Rory McIlroy’s tumultuous connection with Augusta National.
The one notable prize missing from McIlroy’s illustrious career is the green jacket presented to a Masters victor.
Is it time for the US Open? Check.
Is this the first time you’ve seen it? Check.
Do you want to go to the PGA Championship?
Same goes for the FedEx Cup.
Is there a Players Championship? Uh-huh.
Despite the fact that McIlroy has the most spectacular résumé of his generation, every trip down Magnolia Lane comes with the weight of unmet expectations, and every exit with its own set of disappointments. Years of experience—this is McIlroy’s 14th Masters appearance—have given him a philosophical ease in expressing his emotions about the single course that lies between him and a career-defining grand slam.
“It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the planet,” he stated on Friday. “You can’t hate it because it’s such a cool place.”
He paused for a beat and smiled wryly.
“I don’t always like the tournament outcomes, but the place, the club, and the membership are fantastic, and I always have a good time here.”
Maybe not all of the time.
In 2011, he didn’t, as his four-shot lead heading into the final round melted away like snow in a Georgia summer. Or in 2018, when he was in the final group with Patrick Reed on Sunday but stayed in neutral the entire day and finished tied for fifth. His half-dozen top-10 performances don’t always imply a plethora of opportunities squandered. A few of those came from the service entrance, thanks to a good final round while out of contention. Only the two years listed above are truly awful near-misses.
“It’s a sign of maturity.” It’s a matter of practice. It’s walking away empty-handed for the 13th year in a row,” McIlroy explained his upbeat attitude toward Masters things these days. “It’s more of a case of going out and playing and seeing what happens.”
Gusts offered the only ingredient that seems to disturb the world’s greatest players these days: doubt—manifested in shot choices, club selections, and trajectories—during Friday’s second round. In these situations, seeing the individual playing in front of you can be really instructive. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It was the latter for McIlroy on the 12th hole at Augusta National.
He explained, “Jordan [Spieth] hit two in the water, so that wasn’t a pleasant image.” Brooks [Koepka] was the first to hit it, and he shot it straight over the green. “The wind stopped blowing.”
McIlroy made par on the 12th hole before eking out a couple of birdies on the last two holes to finish at 2-over-par, still within striking distance of a much-desired addition to his closet this weekend, but still with work to do.
“I still have the sensation of being exactly there.” “You go out tomorrow and play a good front nine, and all of a sudden you’re right in the middle of things,” he explained. “I’m in a good spot right now.” I’d like to be a couple of shots better, but I’m still in contention.”
His second-straight 73 was a respectable score on a difficult scoring day that hampered a number of pre-tournament favorites and appeared certain to send some of them home early, including Spieth and Koepka. “At this point, I’m thrilled to get off the course,” McIlroy said.
The four-time major champion knows that the struggle on Friday—and Saturday’s equally cold and blustery forecast—isn’t unique to Augusta National or any site, but rather to the ultimate prize. “This is the essence of major championship golf.” With a shrug, he remarked, “It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be easy.” “I believe the conditions will be similar tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Until then, he’ll spend the evening with his 20-month-old daughter, Poppy, but concedes he won’t be free of today’s difficulties, particularly the double-bogey he made on the 11th. He smiled and added, “I’d like to say yes, but no.” “No, I’m still playing with Poppy and pondering the 6-iron on 11,” she says. So, as much as I’d like to say yes, I’m afraid I can’t.”
“One is enough at the moment,” he replied to an amicable suggestion that having additional children might make it easier to ignore the responsibilities of Augusta National.
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