McIlroy masters conditions to reel in stuttering Spieth at Augusta
'Augusta owes me something,' insists Rory after setting up box-office showdown
Rory McIlroy is delighted he has the chance to be a weekend warrior as he shapes up for today's third round in the Masters.
McIlroy's 70, 71 for a three-under par overall clinched his place in the final group on day three at Augusta.
Jordan Spieth was still out on the course grinding away while the Northern Irishman spoke to the media, but the indications were that they would be paired together.
And so it proved, with the bonus for McIlroy that the reigning champion fell back from a starting six-under par to file a second round 74 for four-under total.
Just a shot between them. Masters Saturday. This is the box-office attraction all golf fans want to see.
Both players spoke of the need to ignore their playing partner in terms of turning the round into match play, but this is a 'moving day' with an edge.
Apart from 2011 when he led each day after the first three rounds and then collapsed with an 80 on Sunday, McIlroy has not given himself a sniff of the title. Today represents a big opportunity and he intends to grab it with both hands.
"If I can have a big weekend this weekend like I did that last year, I'd be very happy.
"Obviously with the position I was in last year going into the weekend, there wasn't much pressure.
"But I've played this golf course well on the weekend the last couple years, and I have to take confidence from that.
"I sort of feel that Augusta owes me something and I have come with that attitude. I have come here to get something that I should have had a long time ago.
"It's about not getting fazed and mentally I have been good the last couple of days. I need to keep that going for the next two days." he said.
Yesterday's round featured birdies at holes 2, 3, 13, 15 and 16, and bogeys on the fourth, fifth and the 11th.
The birdie two at 16, and a great par save on 18 could yet prove pivotal moments for McIlroy by the time the last putt drops tomorrow.
McIlroy caught a break with a birdie two on the 16th from 40 feet, where he aimed the ball six feet left of the target and let the wind and slope do the rest of the work.
"I was just looking to two‑putt, try to get it within two or three feet of the hole, and it was a bonus when it dropped," he admitted.
The 18th could have proven disastrous as he left himself with little wriggle room from the spot in the trees.
"Yeah, it was a gamble. I'm not sure how calculated it was, to be fair. It worked out in my favour, I guess.
"There was a little bit of a gap, and I only had 160 yards to the front of the green and I took a 4‑iron knowing that I needed to hit it hard enough that if it did hit something, it would just get through those trees.
"I actually left myself a nice yardage, and it was really important to get that ball up‑and‑down, to make par, and to finish on three‑under.
"I knew no one had finished in the clubhouse at three ‑under and that's what I wanted to do, and thankfully I was able to do it," he said.
Spieth looked imperious in a bogey-free 66 on day one. He found the going a little tougher yesterday, finishing on 74 for four-over 140.
Shane Lowry was eight shots worse than his opening 68, but at level par for the tournament, he remains a contender.
"It was tough. I didn't do myself any favours at the start. It was purely down to a bad mental error, I felt like I hit a half decent shot into the first, felt the wind flicked a bit right to left on me.
"Then just a mental error on the second, so I started with two bogeys.
"But I felt I fought really hard today. I'm really disappointed with the bogey at the last.
"If I had have been standing here on one under I would have been really happy but, you know, I'm still in a decent spot going into the weekend.
"That's some of the toughest golf I've played," said Lowry.
Meanwhile, the European challenge to end a 17-year wait for a Masters win since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 no longer has any personal relevance to Tour veterans Ian Woosnam and Darren Clarke.
Woosnam, 58, bowed out of the tournament he first played in 1988, shooting a forgettable 19-over-par total (82, 81) for his last two days at Augusta National.
A Ryder Cup-winning captain at The K Club in 2006, wee Woosie will always have the memories of the Green Jacket he won in 1991 to sustain him as serious back problems curtail his career.
Clarke, Open Champion of 2011, also effectively bowed out of the Masters as his five-year exemption gained from his Claret Jug victory finishes this year.
Clarke's golf, too, could not match the challenge presented by the course, and an 84 for 16-over par was a sad way for a proud golfer to finish any tournament, never mind the Masters.
Similarly, Graeme McDowell was snubbed once more by this venerable course. Speaking before the tournament began he spoke of the unrequited love affair with Augusta National which just does not gel with his game, however hard he tries.
McDowell gave himself a chance of making the cut with his opening 72, but yesterday got stuck in reverse gear as he slumped to 81 and nine-over par.
Former champions Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman also missed the cut, as did Rickie Fowler and legend Tom Watson. Watson shot 74, 78 to finish eight-over par in his 43rd and final Masters appearance. He received well-deserved ovations from the patrons all day.
"Well, what it means to me is that when I was a little kid I used to watch the Masters on TV. I'm lucky to be able to play in it.
"It's just one of those dreams that came true for me. I watched Arnold Palmer win and Jack start winning. And I had dreams that maybe someday I could play in the Masters. And lo and behold, the 43 times," said Watson.
The Masters, Live, BBC 2 7.30pm/Sky Sports 4 7.00pm