McIlroy threatened with disqualification in Masters disaster

From Brian Keogh at Augusta

Rory McIlroy endured the agony and ecstasy of Augusta as his dramatic charge up the leaderboard was marred by five dropped shots over the last three holes and a rules controversy that could still end in disqualification.

The Holywood teenager, 19, roared into a share of fourth place on four-under par with a spectacular eagle three at the 13th.

But he then double bogeyed the par-three 16th by taking four putts from 40 feet and followed that by running up a triple bogey seven at the last for a 73 that relegated him to one-over par.

Bunkered in the right greenside trap at the 18th, he failed to escape with his first attempt and angrily kicked at the sand before semi-shanking his fourth shot across to the green from where he took three putts.

Kicking the sand could be considered testing the condition of a hazard under rule 13-4, bringing with it a two stroke penalty and subsequent disqualification for signing for an incorrect score.

And officials at Augusta National were still reviewing footage of the incident at 7.40pm local time, (00.45 GMT), leaving McIlroy with a nervous wait to discover his fate.

The teenager could not disguise his disappointment after a round that promised so much five holes from home  and he initially declined to comment to the media, saying: "I don't want to talk right now."

A few minutes later, three hours before his fate was being decided in an Augusta committee room, he said: "I had 16 good holes and my round was just undone by just two very bad ones, unfortunately.

"I am obviously feeling a little bit deflated at the moment but I played very well and I am around for the weekend.

"I put myself in contention on the leader board and I just made a couple of silly mistakes, and I guess that’s how Augusta can jump up so quickly and bite you. I felt as though I didn’t do much wrong.

"At 18 I hit a great drive and felt the wind was coming off the right for the second shot and hit it but the wind just didn’t touch it, so it didn’t go left and I left it in the bunker where you can’t leave it.

"Then I got too cute with the first one and the second was in a pretty bad lie.  So I was trying to get under it and caught it a bit skinny.

"Looking back I can take a lot of positives from today because I played great for the majority of the round and it’s just unfortunate the way I finished.

"I had worked so hard to get to four under and just can’t do that over the last few holes.

“The eagle was great but I bogeyed next and then got a great up and down and thought if I could par my way in it would be a great score.

“So I am really down at the moment but hopefully I will be here for the weekend."

Putting from the bottom tier to a front right pin at the 16th, McIlroy knocked his first putt six feet past and took three more stabs from there, missing from three feet for bogey.

It was a similar roller-coaster story for fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell as he three-putted three times in a 73 that left him seven behind Campbell on two under.

He said: “I am a little disappointed with 73 but I think this course is only going to get tougher and I’m where I need to be for the weekend.”

McIlroy played like a veteran for most of the day, picking up birdies at the driveable third and par-three fourth with sensational shots to just two feet.

He did well just to bogey the seventh, where he drove into trees and duffed his third into a bunker before splashing out to inches.

But he bounced back straight away, almost holing for an albatross two at the par-five eighth before two-putting comfortably for his birdie.

Around Amen Corner, he missed the green right on the 11th but hit the hole with his pitch and saved par from five feet before shaving the hole again with a 12-foot birdie chance at the short 12th.

Then came than incredible eagle three at the 13th, where he flew the trees with his drive and unleashed a spectacular five-iron to just six feet.

If McIlroy has an Achilles Heel it’s his chipping and he fluffed one at the 14th to drop back to three under before producing a good one from behind the 15th to get back to four under.

McDowell had four birdies and five bogeys in his 73 for a two-under par total that left him six shots better than he was on his 2005 debut, when he missed the cut by one.

Assessing his progression, he said: “Four years on I feel like a better player and I think I showed it the last couple of days. You always want to put your game to the ultimate test and these are the ultimate tests.

“It is nice coming to these Major Championships and putting myself in position going into the weekend. That’s all you can ask for.

“There is no point leading this evening or tomorrow evening, Sunday evening is what it is all about. I want to get myself into the last few groups on Sunday afternoon and that is what I am aiming for.”

Resuming on three-under par, the Portrush man birdied the par-five second but had the first of three three-putts at the seventh to slip back before getting hot around the turn.

At the ninth he rolled in a 10 footer and then drained a 50-foot bomb at the 10th to get to five-under par.

But as the wind swirled and the greens dried out, he followed a bogey-birdie run at the 12th and 13th by dropping three shots in his last five holes.

After three-putts from 40 feet at the 14th, he blasted a hybrid 40 yards over the back of the par-five 15th and need two chips to get the ball on the green.

He joked: “I was trying to hit a bullet hold up against the wind and got the bullet part right but it switched downwind. I thought it might even be in the water but they have a bit of semi back there.

“It was horrible back into the wind. I hit a negative shot and left myself a tougher shot. I was happy to walk off with a six in the end as I put myself in a couple of awful shots. That’s Augusta for you. It gives and takes away.”

He then three-putted the 17th from long range but scrambled a good par from six feet at the last after a bunkered tee shot forced him to lay up.