McIlroy survives but Augusta checkmates McDowell

McIlroy survives but Augusta checkmates McDowell

Graeme McDowell refuses to admit defeat to Augusta National despite slipping to his fifth missed cut from seven Masters starts. But Rory McIlroy appears to have an equally big question mark over his ability to conquer the course after yet another Masters disappointment.

While 34 year old Rathmore man McDowell spoke for more than 10 minutes after carding a six over 78 to miss the cut by two strokes,  tournament favourite McIlroy was allowed to give just over three minutes to his 77 and the four-foot knee knocker he was forced to make on the 18th to avoid joining McDowell amongst the Friday carnage.

His verdict?

"Eleven shots back with two rounds to play is going to be nearly impossible to make up.  So I'm trying to shoot two really low rounds and see where that puts me at the end of the week."

If the turnaround is to happen, McIlroy will need to dramatically improve either his putting or his luck.

"I felt like I played well coming in," said McIlroy who was on the cut mark from the time he hit a sprinkler with his nine iron approach to the 13th and made six. "I gave myself looks at birdie almost every hole.  I couldn't get one to drop.  Felt like I had good putts and they were either hitting the high side of the hole or low side of the hole.  Just nothing but going in."

The putt at the last was only the second putt of significance the Holywood star holed all day as he finished the first two rounds ranked 84th for putting alongside McDowell, Mark O'Meara and one of the men he said had no chance of winning his pre-tourmanet press conference, Ian Woosnam.

What did his caddie say as he decided to return to the fourth tee after blasting an attempted high cut with a five wood 30 yards through the green into the bushes be hid the 230-yard fourth (narrowing missing Adam Scott) en route to a double bogey?

What they were thinking on the tee? Did his pre-event concerns about a gap in his clubbing — his four iron was a concern  — come back to haunt him? Who knows.

All we got was an explanation that the wind switched completely. As for the 10th, where he also made double, there were no questions at all allowed as officials whisked him away from the written media to talk to Masters TV after little more than three minutes, most of which was taken up by rights holders from TV and radio.

"It was very frustrating,'' said McIlroy, who will be first off with a marker at 1515 Irish time today.

"I just really couldn't get anything to go my way. I had a couple of really bad breaks on 4 and 13. Got a really massive wind switch on 4. And then hitting the sprinkler on 13 to go up into the azaleas.

McIlroy's lack of success on the greens for the second day running looked like something more than sheer bad luck.

There was also the bogey at the par-five second, which was erased by a birdie at the third where he almost drove the green and chipped to within a few feet.

Yes, he holed a putt of around eight feet for a nice birdie at the fifth but he missed chances at the sixth and ninth, failed to play the par fives well yet again and stumbled through the 10th and 11th in three over par.

He never even threatened the hole from eight feet at the 12th when putting for birdie but can feel aggrieved that he bogeyed the 13th after a huge drive left a nine iron that was sailing only a few feet left of the green when it caroomed off a sprinkler head into the azaleas. 

"I've seen a lot of this golf course in the last few years,'' said McIlroy, who famously hit into the trees on the 10th hole in 2011, leading to a back-nine meltdown and a final-round 80 when he had been the third-round leader.

He managed to play the last five holes Friday in even par, but missed tricky chances for birdie inside 10 feet at the 15th and 17th.

"I'm just not getting anything out of my game at the moment, or at least today, anyway,'' he said. "I drove the ball... I'm driving the ball as well as I ever have. And that should be giving me opportunities to score a bit better. But I just haven't quite been able to get on a run."

Why does he struggle in conditions that force you to plot your way around and think? Maybe it's the fact that he just wants to attack and can't. At least he knows it's not a viable plan of action.

,"No, not really," he said when asked about if he could attack the fiery beast.  "It's hard to attack these pins.  Especially I was hitting lob wedge into 17 and just barely held on to the back edge.  And stuff like that where it's going to be hard. 

"Anything in the 60s is a really, really good score out here.  And it will take something phenomenal to shoot something in the mid-60s and get myself back under par going into the last day.  But I'm going to need to be 2, 3, 4 under par going into the last day to have any sort of chance."

That will depend on Bubba Watson. But even with help from the leader, it's hard to see McIlroy producing  65 unless he finds his putting boots or Augusta National turns on the sprinklers and ease off on the pin positions.

If Augusta is hard for McIlroy in these conditions, it's equally tough for McDowell, who gives up 40 yards off the tee to his former stablemate.

But while much of McDowell's soul searching and brutally honest post-round chat was spent explaining why he finds the course so difficult to manage, he manfully insisted that he will not let this terrible beauty beat him up forever.

"Well, I can’t skip it," he joked. "It’s the Masters so I am going to play. I don’t know what I am going to do. No criciticsm, no excuses. I am extremely disappointed right now but you know what it is awesome to be here.

"It is one of the best tournaments on the planet. It is a hard golf course but I will be back. I am always learning. Always, always learning. And I will bank what I have learned this week."

The Rathmore man confessed that the cut was on his mind as he stood on the first tee, so nervous was he of the breezy afternoon conditions and the searching examination that lay ahead on a track that leaves him vulerable to a lack of length and then exploits his lack of conviction around the greens.

Normally a brilliant long putter, his troubles were exacerbated by some scruffy iron play and his confidence on the greens evaporated like early morning dew.

A double bogey six at the first was all it took to undo the self-hypnosis work he had done in the build up. Bunkered in the cavernous fairway traps on the right, he caught the lip on his escape and then three putted from 20 feet.

When the top player on the PGA Tour in the Strokes Gained putting statistics ends up 84th out of 97 for putting, something is amiss.

"My iron play was rancid this week," he said after a round featuring four bogeys, two double bogeys and just two birdies, both of which came on par fives.

"I was putting from long range too often and then just controlling your speeds was too hard. It just saps your confidence slowly. But there are guys getting round. It is tough. Look at the scoreboard."

McDowell was in good company in missing the cut alongside a host of recent Masters champions including Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson.

"Its hard out there. When you start playing  from the back foot, when it starts scaring you a little bit and getting you defensive, then that’s when you are beaten. 

"I said it earlier this week, you have got to chip and putt with confidence around here. The second you lose confidence and get a little scared of it, it beats the c**p out you.

"The first was a very telling hole for me in the end. It just knocked me off kilter. I didn’t like the way I felt."

In one of his darker moments, he said: "Unfortunately it’s deja vu standing here on a Friday talking to you guys. There will be no green jacket in my wardrobe any time in the near future. I have got some work to do before I can win around this place. But it’s all good.  Where else do you want to be in the golfing world."

He's determined not to let the Masters dampened his spirits following an extremely positive start to the year and will head to Hilton Head next week determined to make a successful defence of the RBC Heritage ttle.

"There are a lot of keys to improve around here. Driving was a big key for me coming in this week. I drove the ball pretty well for two days so I can’t blame my driver. But my iron play was awful. Awful. 

"I don’t spin the ball from these fairways. They brush everything against you and because of my shallow angle of attack, I don’t spin my irons enough coming into these greens. Short game is always a key though I wouldn’t blame my short game these last two days.

"My leaves around the greens were mostly putts. I am probably one of the best pace putters in the world but for some reason when I come to Augusta I may as well putt left-handed from long range because it’s that bad.

"This is a tough test of golf for me when I am not putting well. I just threw so many shots away on the greens over the last two days. Without even trying, I can think of half a dozen I could have saved around the greens this week with the putter in my hand.

"Bad pace, bad feel. Just not converting well around the greens. I played the par fives just about as good  as I can from tee to green but took just two of eight opportunities. Not good enough."

His partling shot, despite all his disappointment, summed him up perfectly.

"I will find a way around here some year," he told himself. "It is very doable."