McIlroy altering approach after another whirlwind Masters round

Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a short putt on the third hole during the second round of the Masters, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (Chris Carlson/AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you watched Rory McIlroy play golf at every Masters, you’d have to be two things: in shape because of how fast he goes around, and a bit of a glutton for punishment.

The 28-year-old Ulsterman had one of those rounds Friday that could have been spectacular, it could have been horrible, and it ended up just fine. It was quite the ride.

McIlroy, who sits at one-over, five shots back of the lead held by four golfers – Charley Hoffman, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler – heading into the weekend, had a plethora of opportunities to play better than his score shows, but also much worse.

“I made a few bogeys at the start and then a couple birdies. It was just one of those days when you had to grind out pars and pick up birdies when you could,” said McIlroy.

The Masters is golf’s biggest stage, and McIlroy, one of its smallest competitors by stature, but not by aggression, approach, or willingness to compete, wants to do better at Augusta National. But he may want it too much. He’s chasing ghosts this year, aiming for the Grand Slam – the Masters being the only major he hasn’t won yet.

Five of the last six years McIlroy has shot a round at Augusta hirer than 76, starting in 2011 when he famously led going into the final round before blowing up for an 8-over-par 80. In 2012, his weekend read 77-76. In 2013, he shot 79 on Saturday. In 2014, he shot 77 on Friday but still finished tied for eighth, and in 2016 he fired a 77 Saturday but still finished tied for 10th.

The year he didn’t have a blow-up round he finished solo fourth.


McIlroy had one of those vexing rounds Friday that left him scrounging for answers. He acted more like a 27-year-old car and not a 27-year-old champion: he just couldn’t get going.

On No. 8, an uphill par 5, patrons’ mouths were agape as McIlroy hit a drive close to the pine straw on the right side of the fairway and elected to hit three-wood. He pumped it right of the green and the patrons scrambled to get a look of how McIlroy was going to recover from there (Insert Georgian drawl here: “I got nothing to do but watch golf all day, and he’s a damn good one to watch,” said one patron). He was surveying the green complex while the group ahead was still putting out.

McIlroy has no time for waiting.

He hit the chip on a rope. It stopped about five feet from the hole. It was miraculous. The Georgian patrons who had hustled up the hill to catch a glimpse put their cheap cigars in their mouths long enough to high-five.

Everyone was smiling, including McIlroy.

And then he missed the putt.

He did it again on No. 9, knocking his bunker attempt long and missing the comebacker.

He did it again on No. 12, this time flubbing his chip, missing the comebacker, tapping in, and then rolling his ball into the water. He didn’t even have the energy to throw it.

Despite his pedestrian attempts to get something going on Friday, there were bright spots.

He looked ever the part of a bronzed God (no seriously, he’s the most tan Northern Irishman ever, but living in West Palm Beach will do that) after taking a herculean swipe at the ball on the par-5 second, landing it an otherworldly 393 yards away. He made three birdies on the first nine before making a lone birdie and two bogeys on the second nine.

The patrons, as well, love McIlroy. In fact, they adore him. They will him on. The Nike logo emblazoned on his hat and clothing must remind them of a Masters champion from a bygone era, and the fact he dresses like Tiger Woods has them assuming he’ll play like him too.

But whereas Woods had the eye of, well, a tiger, McIlroy has yet to prove he can do it here, on golf’s grandest stage.

He plays fast and he looks the part, but the emotional roller coaster McIlroy goes on when he plays this golf course is an endless loop. He’ll try again Saturday to finally get off this ride, but his third-round scoring average (about 73) is his highest from any other day at the Masters.

He shot a 77 in last year’s third round, but said tomorrow will be a different story in terms of his approach.

“Last year I was more in defence-mode rather than attack. That’s a completely different mindset, trying not to make bogeys instead of going out there and trying to make birdies. I’ll approach tomorrow with a complete different mindset,” he said.

It will be another round at the Masters where he is wishing for something good to happen. The patrons will be out there, because they want him to do well.

He wants it too, but perhaps a little too much.

“A couple years ago I shot 10-under on the weekend and Jordan was just too far ahead. And then there’s been other times where I’ve shot bad weekends and went the other way. Anything is possible out there,” he said.

Anything is possible certainly, and The Rory McIlroy Experience is an emotional ride – punishing at times, eye-opening and exciting at others – but one thing’s for sure: it’s never boring.

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