MARTIN SAMUEL: McIlroy's rollercoaster ride is the talk of Augusta

MARTIN SAMUEL: Rory McIlroy’s rollercoaster ride has been the talk of Augusta… but while his revival after a snack break is not too little, it looks to be too late to win the green jacket

  • Rory McIlroy put in an improved second round display at the Masters on Friday
  • McIlroy shot 66 but his first round score of 75 on Thursday may have cost him
  • The Northern Irishman ended up in some shrubbery at the 13th hole on Friday
  • McIlroy’s chances of victory in Augusta appear to have disappeared yet again 

What was in that sandwich? He went in, ate a sandwich or some other reviving snack and came out a new man. Can WADA test for cheese and pickle? Will ham and mustard become a banned substance? Maybe after this.

Whatever it was Rory McIlroy did or consumed in the brief time between the end of his first round and the start of his second, he might consider marketing it. If his golf game ever does collapse as spectacularly as it appeared to at Augusta early on Friday morning, there is a living to be made.

Sadly, while the revival was not too little, it was almost certainly too late. McIlroy’s second round was a blistering reminder of what might have been, but the conclusion of his first may well have scuppered his chances of genuine contention.

Rory McIlory’s first round display in Georgia may have cost him his Masters chances

McIlory improved on Friday with an encouraging 66 but the damage is already done

It’s not the numbers on the board, but the number of wonderful players McIlroy needs to fight his way through. He needs his second round 66 again — twice. In a nutshell, McIlroy completed Thursday’s round on Friday morning and played as poorly as at any time in his career. 

He resumed in a bunker by the 10th green, missed a 10ft uphill putt and it all unravelled from there. He bogeyed four holes, shot 75 and returned to the clubhouse 10 shots off the lead, tied 78th.

Then he went out and played the same nine again, but as a different golfer. He started from the 10th and was four under par to the turn — a seven shot swing, morning to, well, it wasn’t even afternoon. Morning to late morning, 7am to roughly midday. It was the most astonishing transformation but that’s probably the problem, too.

 McIlroy must be thinking what could have been after improving in Georgia on Friday

Golf is streaky, we know. A birdie can start a run of them. A duffed tee shot can induce shakes. Yet the greatest maintain an even strain. 

McIlroy undoubtedly has the potential to be among the very best golfers. He has been world No1 this year. He is a Masters away from a personal slam.

But he is as skittish as a squirrel. In headlights. Who has recently mistaken a tube of blue Smarties for his supply of acorns.

At times in adversity, McIlroy seemed unable to distinguish the good shots from the bad.

‘Oh sit, oh sit, oh sit,’ he pleaded with his ball on the first visit to the 15th. His face was a picture of anguish. Then it pitched and stayed. ‘Perfect,’ he concluded. And then laughed almost sheepishly at his prior concern.

In his second round day, McIlroy seemed unable to distinguish the good shots from the bad

It did not help during those early holes that as poorly as McIlroy was playing, so Dustin Johnson in his group was excelling. This was what an elite golfer looked like. This was what McIlroy aspired to be. Just four holes into the second round, Johnson hit 10 under and the outright lead.

Yet then he began to give a few back. And as Johnson momentarily faltered, so McIlroy seemed to draw strength from that. Not just thinking he might make the cut, but that he might prosper from there — maybe even contend by Sunday. But it’s still optimistic.

There are simply too many outstanding golfers between McIlroy and sight of the prize as it stands. Yet the 180 degree turn in fortune was so exceptional, so extreme, that McIlroy’s champions will no doubt keep the faith.

Eddie Pepperell compared McIlroy to a mail-in vote, arriving late. The swing may be too much to effect this time, however.

Still, it was some watch. McIlroy went from being so cold his caddie needed to handle his clubs with ice tongs to being the hottest player at Augusta.

McIlory ended up deep in trouble on the 13th hole where he made to make a significant detour

The nadir? Take your pick. On the 13th, first time, he hit a duck hook left into an unplayable lie and when he finally played his second, couldn’t find a way back over Rae’s Creek that did not entail a significant detour. The camera crew who followed him appeared to be crashing through the undergrowth like escaped gorillas.

On the 16th, a short par three, he hit an eight iron into water in a way that might be described as ‘like a 24 handicapper’.

Except even 24 handicappers would be appalled by this shot. ‘That’s so bad — oh my God,’ said McIlroy. No-one disagreed.

So fast forward and follow McIlroy down the 17th a second time. A gorgeous tee shot to the right of the fairway, a lovely approach shot to 20 feet, a birdie putt. Beautiful. The golf of a Masters contender.

Yet at that time, McIlroy was still fighting to be in the area come the weekend.

With so many players below par, even at two or three under for the tournament McIlroy remained a single-hole implosion away from the flight home. And if he overthinks majors as much as he sometimes claims, that thought must have been swirling around in his mind.

McIlroy played some good shots towards the end of the course but it may be too little, too late

What if, what if, what if?

Had McIlroy simply shot level par in that first round, how different the leaderboard could look for him now. Instead, he was three over on a day when every contender was in serious red.

Unfortunately, that’s probably the Grand Slam gone by for another year, right there.

And he probably does overthink it. Why, when play was suspended on Thursday night but individuals could finish playing their hole, did he elect for his first shot the next day to be from a greenside bunker?

Once he had struck that past the hole he was scrambling for par, failed, and that set the tone for the early round.

Equally, the same hole kicked off the brilliant round two. Straight down the middle off the tee, approach shot to 10 feet, birdie putt.

McIlroy’s chances of yet another Major title appear to have vanished for another year

It was the first time he had put the three components of tournament-winning golf together on one hole all morning. Pity that, by then, he was in a battle just to survive. Still, it is strange how good golf often brings good fortune to the party as its plus one.

Suddenly, McIlroy’s luck changed, too.

On the third, he hit right into the trees, got an almighty kick left and ended up back in the heart of the fairway in front of the green. Yet it was getting harder to make progress.

If his first nine holes had been peppered with birdies, so his second saw a succession of putts flirt with the hole but politely decline. And every time that happened, McIlroy looked skywards as his chances of making the necessary impression receded. It was a fabulous round but from the boondocks of the leaderboard which, for an elite golfer, is a place of no pressure beyond personal pride.

Maybe there was the secret, even more than that sandwich.

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