Rory McIlroy sees progress in latest Masters failure – despite hitting his own caddie

Rory McIlroy sees progress in latest Masters failure – despite hitting his own caddie

Rory McIlroy was never in contention for the Masters this year – AP/David J. Phillip

No career grand slam and no resulting immortality, but despite another disappointing Masters Rory McIlroy believes there is plenty of life left in his challenge this year to ensure that he does not go a decade without a major victory.

Certainly, the Northern Irishman left Augusta in a much more optimistic mood than 12 months ago. Then McIlroy was so full of despair and despondency after his Masters missed cut, that he pulled out of the next week’s competition and instead went home to mourn his latest Georgia shortfall.

But this time, he is determined to play at Hilton Head in Thursday’s first round to take the positives from a week in which he never contended but at least, in his own eyes, showed an uplift in form.

His last-round 73 to finish on four-over and outside the top 20 was a frustrating experience and was perhaps best summed up when he pulled a club out of the bag with such venom that he accidentally hit caddie Harry Diamond in the face. Yet he looked at pains not to be overly downhearted.

He said: “I made good progress last week in San Antonio [at The Texas Open where he finished third], my strokes gained numbers in approach [play] were good. I would say my strokes gained approach numbers this week are probably OK. So it’s definitely better than what it was through the Florida swing.”

McIlroy was so concerned by his approach play during March that after The Players Championship, he took a 2,000-mile trip from South Florida to Las Vegas to see legendary coach Butch Harmon. It was as much a pep session as a technical lesson, but it was perhaps just what McIlroy needed. At the very least, he thinks he is on the right track and is not hitting the panic button.

“That’s all you can be – patient,” McIlroy said. “You can’t really do anything else. You’ve got to try to have as much acceptance as possible and try to keep hitting good shots and move on.”

His patience was tested to breaking point on two of the par fives on Sunday. He hit the second green in two and ended up with a par after three-putting from 10 feet and again found the putting surface with his second on the 15th. Granted, he was 50 feet away but taking four putts to get down is never excusable for a pro, no matter how arduous the test.

It was a shame as birdies on the eighth and ninth had seen him turn in one-under, although he did bounce back with a birdie on the 15th. Alas, there was a bogey on the 17th after he pulled his tee-shot and it seemed as if he might take another five up the 18th, when he failed to hit the green in two. However, he made a fine up and down.

McGinley: ‘Rory is not playing very well’

Many will venture that it is all between the ears for McIlroy, the man who cannot get out of his way at Augusta. Fair enough, if personal demons do exist on golf courses, then McIlroy here provides fertile ground for the ghouls to multiply.

Yet McIlroy has been struggling between the shoulder blades since finishing second and first in Dubai in January. This is simply a case of bad timing as his friend and confidante Paul McGinley pointed out.

“Rory is not playing very well,” said McGinley, who was here as a Sky Sports analyst. “That’s the bottom line. Players come in and out of form and Rory’s just not been on his form at this time. It was a good idea to go to see Butch but that was only a few weeks ago and will need a bit of time to turn this around. The majors come thick and fast, now, so he has to do so quickly.”

He will pack in competitions before the US PGA in Louisville in four weeks. Immediately after the RBC Heritage, he plays at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, where he will partner his former Irish amateur team-mate Shane Lowry and then, after a week off, in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where he has won three times.

This will directly take him to Valhalla and he also enjoys winning memories at the Kentucky layout. Indeed, the most recent of his four majors came at Valhalla 10 years ago.

Tyrrell Hatton will also be there in the city where Muhammad Ali was born and raised and the Englishman will be praying that he can reproduce the first 16 holes of this final round. Starting at three-over, he was five under for the round when he reached the 17th tee. But he pushed his drive and took a dispiriting bogey and suffered another slice off the 18th and dropped another shot.

The 69 was his second-best ever Masters round on his eighth Augusta appearance. He was in a desperate state by the end, throwing his arms about and wailing at the heavens. Hatton knew he needed to finish in the top 12 to earn an invite back next year, but he left the course at tied for 11th with more than half the field still to finish. But for those two late fives, he could have exited the gate assuredly.

The Korean Tom Kim had shown what was possible with a 66 that hurtled him from 11-over and a backmarker to five-over and into the top 30. “I think the wind dying is such a big difference here because we play golf courses that blow harder than this and are easy to score,” he said. “But it’s just hard whether it’s blowing 10mph or 20mph here and just switching all the time. I think that’s where it gets really difficult. Having the wind down and having definitely pins where you can kind of attack holes, that makes a big difference.

“For me, I made the cut on the number. I didn’t really have a good moving day [on Saturday] and just came out here just trying to make it as stress-free as possible, and I did, and just got lucky with a good round there.”

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