Sport Golf

Monday 18 December 2017

Window for Rory McIlroy as he just makes Masters cut

Rory McIlroy cuts a forlorn figure during a difficult second round. Inset, former champion Bubba Watson shot a superb second round 68 to lead by three shots. Photo: Reuters
Rory McIlroy cuts a forlorn figure during a difficult second round. Inset, former champion Bubba Watson shot a superb second round 68 to lead by three shots. Photo: Reuters
Bubba Watson once again produced a heavenly performance around the Cathedral of Pines
Rory McIlroy reacts after a missed putt on the 17th hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta. Photo: Reuters
Rory McIlroy hits from the azaleas on the 13th hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta. Photo: Reuters

Karl MacGinty at Augusta National

RORY McIlroy has just made the cut for the final two rounds of the Masters.

He will be given the option of playing with a marker in the third round at The Masters after being drawn on his own in the first group due out on the golf course.

McIlroy's scheduled to tee it up at 10.15 local (3.15pm Irish) after scraping through the cut on four-over with rounds of 71 and 77. 

Earlier his prospects of donning the Green Jacket this weekend looked to be in tatters by his error-strewn round at The Masters.

As 2012 champion Bubba Watson once again produced a heavenly performance around the Cathedral of Pines to establish a three stroke lead at half way, sadly there also was a strong sense of déjà vu about McIlroy’s performance yesterday.

When the 24-year-old Ulsterman bowed his head in utter frustration over his golf club on the par-five 13th, it was painfully reminiscent of his wayward tee shot into Rae’s Creek at the height of his infamous Sunday meltdown in 2011.

This time, after a booming drive around the corner, McIlroy pulled his 9-iron (!) approach left of the green and was desperately unlucky when it struck a sprinkler-head and cannoned deep into the bushes.

“It was a bad shot on 13.  I didn't quite deserve that, hitting the sprinkler but it just was a frustrating day,” said McIlroy, whose complexion was almost as pink as the azaleas after his bogey six on the picturesque par five.

It was his fourth horribly close encounter with the shrubbery at Augusta during the second round 77 which dropped the pre-tournament favourite into a share of 46th on four-over, bang on the cut mark with Darren Clarke.

That’s an insurmountable 11 strokes behind Watson on a course which plainly has McIlroy’s number.

"Eleven shots back with two rounds to play is going to be nearly impossible to make up,” he conceded. “So I'm trying to shoot two really low rounds and see where that puts me at the end of the week.

“It will take something phenomenal to shoot something in the mid‑60s and get myself back under par going into the last day,” McIlroy added. “But I'm going to need to be two, three or four under par going into the final round to have any sort of chance.”

At least he and Clarke lived to fight another day, though McIlroy said he didn’t know the full significance of his five foot put for par at the last, admitting: “when I got into the scoring area and saw that I was in 46th place, it was a bit of a sigh of relief that I'm here for the weekend.”

Graeme McDowell opened with a double-bogey six out of the fairway bunker at one and took another out of the water at 11 as a dispiriting 78 set the Portrush man reeling to six-over.

It’s difficult to know what McDowell can do to improve on his exasperating record of five missed cuts in seven appearances at Augusta. Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look as if there’ll be no green jacket in my wardrobe in the near future,” he sighed.

McIlroy counted two three-putts among the 34 he took on Thursday, he still emerged from his first round 71 justifiably pleased with his overall performance on a difficult opening day.

Yet the first of McIlroy’s three diabolical sixes yesterday came at the second and served as an omen for the horrors ahead. Jack Nicklaus used say there was an airline ticket booth in the woods to the left of that par five, so McIlroy probably did alright to get out of there with a bogey.

After making amends with a sweet birdie at three, the Ulsterman erred grievously at the 240 yards par three fourth, slamming a 5-five wood through the back of the green, where it cannoned off a down-slope and deep into the bushes.

Experts suggested he double-crossed himself, turning an intended high fade into a straight screamer. Whatever, McIlroy in this instance was hopelessly over-clubbed.

Defending champion Adam Scott on the fifth tee actually flinched as the ball wayward ball whistled past him.

After considering his option in the bushes, close by the perimeter wall, McIlroy decided to hit again off the tee, this time cracking a 4-iron into the front bunker before getting up-and-down for double-bogey five.

McIlroy bounced back with birdie at the next but one suspects missing a couple of relatively short putts for further birdies at seven and nine did little for his confidence.

Certainly, it wasn’t helped when he made double-bogey six out of the pine straw left of the green at his nemesis, the par four 10th.

It was here McIlroy’s nightmare meltdown began on Sunday at the 2011 Masters. On that occasion, he was four ahead entering the final round but slumped to an 80, the worst score by a 54-hole leader in the event’s history.

This time, however, he hit a fabulous 3-wood into the heart of the fairway but McIlroy pulled his approach and it scooted off the left bank side of the green and deep into the bushes.

He duffed his first chip’ leaving it in an impossible spot high to the back of the green and took three more to get down.

The misery continued at 11, where he made another poor chip from the right fairway on his way to bogey five. Then, after missing a five foot putt for birdie at 12, McIlroy stumbled to that six out of the bushes at 13.

When he passed up another opportunity from close range at 15, McIlroy’s tally on the four par-fives, usually an accurate barometer at the Masters, was an abject two-over par yesterday and an aggregate one-over for the week.

Over the past two years, McIlroy’s hopes of redemption at Augusta were scuppered by a 77 on Saturday in 2012 and an abject third round 79 last year.

“It was very frustrating, I really couldn't get anything to go my way,” McIlroy insisted. “I’d a couple of really bad breaks on four and 13.  Got a really massive wind switch on four and then hit the sprinkler on 13 to go up into the azaleas.

“I felt like I played well coming in.  I gave myself looks at birdie almost every hole but couldn't get one to drop.  Felt like I had good putts and they were either hitting the high side or low side of the hole but nothing going in.”

McIlroy’s performance is neatly encapsulated in the statistics. He was seventh for ball-striking but 84th in putting, tied with Mark O’Meara, Ian Woosnam and McDowell after taking 65 putts in the first two rounds.

Watson yesterday played divinely in golf’s Cathedral of the Pines as he followed-up Thursday’s 69, the American’s second bogey-free round in 81 at the Majors with a wonderful 68 yesterday to lead Aussie John Senden (68) by three.

Unforgettably, Watson pried the Green Jacket from Louis Oosthuizen’s grasp two years ago and won his place in Masters folklore with a miracle recovery from the pine needles to the right of the second tie hole, the 10th.

It bestowed golfing majesty on a man from humble origins in Bagdad, Florida, and he admitted yesterday that he struggled for much of the two years since to adjust to his new elevated status in the global game.

His victory in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in February was Watson’s first on the PGA Tour since his Masters triumph and it was achieved with remarkable aplomb by a 35-year-old so often overcome by emotion he’s irreverently known as ‘Blubba’.

“You’ve got to think about where I've come from, my mom having two jobs to pay for my golf, my dad working in construction,” he explained. “When you think about that and where I am in my career and with my young family, you’ve got to understand how great this was.

“Besides the Lord, marrying my wife and having our child Caleb, it’s right up there, fourth or fifth on the list. So when you think about that, it's an accomplishment for a guy named Bubba. My year, my career was complete after that win.”

As for his disappointing 50th place finish on his title defence last year, Watson was “in awe” amid all the brouhaha and media attention at Augusta that week.

The stroke with which he beat Oosthuizen two years ago was a true shot of the ages but Watson forced his way into sudden-death that day with a sparkling string of four successive birdies on the back nine.

There were powerful echoes of that memorable occasion yesterday as he kept his focus sharp during a spectacular run of five-straight birdies from the 12th, including an inspired 45-foot banana putt which miraculously tumbled into the cup at 14,  to establish a commanding clubhouse lead on seven-under par.

Though he missed from inside five feet to save par at 18, it was only a minor black mark against his putter on a day in which he was utterly inspired around and, especially, on glass hard, lightning quick greens at Augusta.

And when a player of Watson’s power and Picasso touch finds his range with the putter at The Masters, it’s time for the rest to watch out.

Trouble lingered not just at Amen Corner but in every nook and cranny of this dangerously beautiful course, a fact heavily underscored yesterday by the misfortune of McIlroy, Oosthuizen and Phil Mickelson.

Three-time Masters Champion Mickelson as he racked-up a staggering treble-bogey six at 12 as a second round 73 dropped the left-hander to five-over par, consigning him to only his second missed cut at Augusta and first since 1997.

Known as ‘The Bell’, the 155 yard par three 12th, certainly took its toll on the Californian as he hit his tee shot into the front bunker; put his next through the green into the back trap; then looked on in near-despair as his third shot trundled back across the putting surface into sand yet again.

Defending champion Adam Scott ground-out an competent 72 yesterday and loomed large going into the weekend in a share of third with Scandinavians Jonas Blixt of Sweden and Dane Thomas Bjorn on three-under.

That evergreen incredible Augusta specialist Fred Couples was one back after a 71 which suggests he can maintain his proud record of never finishing outside the top-15 since turning 50 four years ago.

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