AUGUSTA, Ga. — It had to be the 10th hole that helped send Rory McIlroy packing from Augusta National. You remember that hole from the 2011 Masters, don’t you?
McIlroy sure does.
Ten years ago, when he was 21, McIlroy sent his first Sunday tee shot on the back nine whistling into a cluster of white cabins and a landing place even grizzled Masters veterans hadn’t seen before. After holding the tournament lead by himself on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and after carrying a four-stroke cushion into Sunday, McIlroy shot 43 on his final nine for an 80, only the worst final Masters round ever played by a pro who had been leading after 54 holes. McIlroy cried about it when he talked to his mother over the phone.
This Friday’s back nine did not unleash the same kind of nightmare on the now 31-year-old McIlroy, who birdied the par-5 13th and 15th holes to close his second round with a 36 and a total of 2-over 74. But while standing in the fairway of the downhill, 495-yard 10th, known as Camellia, McIlroy still had a chance to make the cut. At least until he took a swing that appeared borrowed from an 20-handicapper’s playbook. The kind of swing he took Thursday when he nailed his father, Gerry, in the leg on the fly.
As McIlroy’s ball went sailing wide right, he released his right hand from his club and recoiled from the sight of the shot. He offered a pained smile as the ball disappeared into the azalea bushes; McIlroy himself later disappeared into those bushes on a hunting expedition. He double bogeyed the hole to fall to 8-over for the tournament, and that was that. McIlroy’s excruciating quest to win the final leg of a career Grand Slam was extended to 2022, at least.
The Northern Irishman declined comment after the round. But the day before, after shooting a 4-over 76, McIlroy said, “I’m quite encouraged with how I hit it on the way in.”
Apparently he wasn’t so encouraged Friday. This early exit only exacerb ates McIlroy’s recent issues. McIlroy admitted last month, after shooting 79-75 to miss the cut at The Players Championship, that he erred in trying to follow Bryson DeChambeau’s swing-as-hard-as-possible approach.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the U.S. Open,” McIlroy conceded. “I think a lot of people saw that and were like, ‘Whoa, if this is the way they’re going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps, it really helps.’ ”
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley believes McIlroy could use a bit of a vacation from the game.
“He’s starting to doubt himself,” McGinley said on Sky Sports, “confusion in his swing, and nobody’s ever played well with a whole lot of thoughts in your head. There’s a lot of work to be done.
“I think the best thing for Rory is a few weeks in the sunshine on a beach somewhere and clear his head.”