Rory McIlroy: ‘I’m still right there’ in Masters hunt despite consecutive 73s

Rory McIlroy: ‘I’m still right there’ in Masters hunt despite consecutive 73s
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – His Masters chances dwindling, again, Rory McIlroy flared his approach 50 yards right on the par-4 11th hole.

After the heavy rain the past few days, did a mud ball get him?

“I wish,” he said later, laughing. “It was a muddy mind.”

The wayward approach left him a dicey pitch back toward the green, then he three-putted from 16 feet for a demoralizing double bogey. Just like that, he was 3 over par for the day, 4 over for the tournament – not just losing touch with the leaders, but also squarely on the cut line with the treacherous 12th hole to play.

Full-field scores from the 86th Masters Tournament

It looked like another disappointing Masters performance … but then he regrouped.

McIlroy could have done without the dropped shots, of course, but in a way, he was thankful not to have the honor on the 12th tee with the wind gusting.

In the group ahead, Jordan Spieth had rinsed two shots and walked off with triple.

“So that wasn’t a great visual,” McIlroy said.

And then in their group, Koepka had stepped up and – after the wind died – launched his tee shot into the back bushes.

“I just needed to hit the green on 12,” McIlroy said. “I just needed to make par on 12.”

He did, without stress. “And that was a nice reset. I played the next few holes really well after that.”

McIlroy played 2 under to the house to salvage not just a second consecutive 1-over 73, but also his latest bid to complete the career Grand Slam. At the halfway point he’s outside the top 20, but just five shots off the lead.

“I still feel like I’m right there,” he said. “You go out tomorrow and you play a decent front nine, and all of a sudden you’re right in the thick of things.

“I’m in a decent position. I’d like to be a couple of shots better at least, but I’m still right there.”

After missing the cut last week at the Valero Texas Open, McIlroy returned to South Florida for a few days of practice. Having battled windy conditions in at least four events this year, he decided to experiment with a lower-spinning ball. He was so pleased with the early returns that he put it in play for the year’s first major – and the switch has been “really beneficial.”

“I think the wind magnified some of the characteristics that that ball had,” he said, “and I’d just had enough of chipping 6-irons 160 yards. I wanted to feel like I could make full swings with a 7-iron and still hit the same shot. It’s helped this week.”

The wind gusted to 25 mph Friday at Augusta National, and similar conditions (plus cooler temperatures) are expected over the weekend. Throughout his career McIlroy has had a better record in track meets than par-fests, but he’s relishing the unique challenge of this Masters.

“This is what major-championship golf is all about,” he said. “It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be easy. The conditions look pretty similar tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to that.”

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