Masters 2018: Rory McIlroy's 'most disappointing day' at a major

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy
A disappointing final round saw McIlroy finish fifth at this year's Masters

Green was not the desired colour on the Augusta National scoring monitors. It was all about finding red and the verdant 74 next to Rory McIlroy's name was a shocking exception on the final day of the Masters.

The Northern Irishman's fourth-round score was surrounded by rivals' sub-par totals which were highlighted in vibrant rouge.

His miserable two-over-par round stood out as comfortably the worst among the top 15 contenders in a fascinating and compelling tournament so courageously won by Patrick Reed.

For McIlroy, this was his most disappointing day at a major - more so, even, than blowing the four-shot Masters lead he took into the final round in 2011.

Then he was a callow golfing youth, yet to learn the art of controlling his emotions under the unique pressures demanded by the majors. He acquired them swiftly enough, winning the first of his four majors to date at the very next outing, the US Open at Congressional.

Now he is a seasoned world-class performer capable of winning almost any tournament in the world. But "almost" is the key word because the Masters still stubbornly refuses to fall into McIlroy's grasp.

And it is not as though he lost a tight tussle last Sunday, pushing hard the eventual champion. As the colour-coded monitors graphically showed, this was a day where he simply did not turn up.

He was a non-factor in an otherwise thrilling denouement. "I just didn't quite have it," the crestfallen McIlroy admitted.

It was a stunning collapse because it appeared he had done everything right to reach the point of contending in the final pairing on the Sunday of the one major he has yet to win.

McIlroy had mapped out a plan for this moment all the way back to last autumn when he decided to take off the rest of 2017. He wanted to be fit and strong, without concern for injury, for his Augusta assault.

This policy allowed him to embark on a busy tournament schedule over the first three months of the year, ensuring he would not be undercooked when he arrived in Georgia.

Again he accomplished this mission in style, rediscovering his putting touch thanks to chats with former US Ryder Cupper Brad Faxon. It brought him a brilliant win at Bay Hill in his final strokeplay outing before the Masters.

The jigsaw was coming together and the final pieces were seemingly in place when McIlroy covered the first three rounds in 11 under par. There was serenity, maturity and certainty as he stayed firmly in Reed's wing mirrors before the final round.

And then Sunday arrived. It was as though someone had vigorously shaken the tray upon which this carefully constructed jigsaw lay.

Bit by bit the pieces fell apart - the wild tee shot on the first, the missed eagle putt on the next, the bogeys at the third and the fifth. Even though Reed was struggling, McIlroy proved incapable of holding it together.

When he missed his short birdie putt at the ninth it was clear he had no feel or touch for the demanding Augusta greens. He still lacked the qualities demonstrated by dashing chasers such as Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.

And McIlroy could not summon the bloody-minded will of Reed who, despite several errant shots, could still hole the putts that made him a Masters champion.

"I'll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better," McIlroy said.

"Just wasn't quite as trusting as I was in the first few days. That made a big difference."

He ended up signing the winning scorecard and saw first-hand how Reed held his nerve to edge over the line to land his first major.

The new Masters champion does not fit the identikit profile of the leading gang of American golfers and is not a member of the Spieth-Fowler-Justin Thomas-Daniel Berger group who holiday together and pull for each other at the biggest tournaments.

Reed is a relative outsider despite his Ryder Cup heroics, following a chequered college career and overt confidence that has occasionally been regarded as arrogance.

But he has proved himself to be a heck of a golfer and is a Masters winner at the age of 27. He is a year younger than the frustrated McIlroy.

It is reasonable to expect Reed will feature on many more major leaderboards and there is no reason to believe that McIlroy will not do so as well. He is too talented and too committed not to.

But the career grand slam remains elusive for the Ulsterman and that challenge has just become that little bit more difficult. This was the perfect opportunity, the groundwork had been laid and conditions on the final day could not have been better.

"I'll be back. And hopefully I'll be better," McIlroy said. He will need to be.


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