Rory McIlroy is determined to rack up his first Top-10 in the Masters today despite being outscored by his marker in the third round at Augusta National.
The world No 9 was first off with Augusta National club champion Jeff Knox but despite finishing with three birdies in his last four holes for a 71, he was still "beaten" by a shot by the amateur, who holds the course record of 61 from the members’ tees.
Knox would have beaten McIlroy 4 and 3 in matchplay but while talk of humiliation is plainly out of bounds, the local man's course management and intimate knowledge of the nuances of the greens may have given him some food for thought.
The Holywood star believes that if he can improve his putting, he can finish with a round in the 60s and sneak his first Top-10 finish in his sixth Masters start.
“My best finish here is 15th, which isn't really anything to shout about, so it would be nice to play well tomorrow, shoot something in the mid to high 60s and maybe finish the week in red figures,” said McIlroy, who is well down the putting statistics after taking 34, 31 and 30 putts in his first three rounds to be 46st out of 51.
“I think a good goal would be to have my best finish ever at Augusta and go from there. It wouldn't be the week that I would have wanted from the start, but the way the last two days have gone it wouldn't be a bad way to finish the week.”
Far from being embarrassed after being beaten by Knox — after all, only five players beat the mid-amateur's score all day — McIlroy joked that he might need him on his bag to read the greens.
“Jeff is a great player,” he said. “I thought he was going to be nice and three-putt the last and we would have a half, but he beat me by one.
“He obviously knows this place so well and gets it round. I don't think I've ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.”
As for his own putting, McIlroy admits that he needs to figure a way around the slick greens at Augusta National if he is to win a green jacket some day.
More importantly, he has to learn how to avoid that high round that appears to wreck his chances every year.
“I don't know what it is,” he said. “I seem to throw in a high number every year. Last year it was a 79, this year it was a 77. At least it's getting a little better.
“It's just turning those 77s and the high ones into 72s or 73s, that's the real key for me around here.
McIlroy started well, two-putting the par-five second from 25 feet for birdie to get back to three over.
But any hope of a Masters comeback ended when he overshot the short, par-four third with a sand wedge and missed a 10 footer for par.
Another bogey at the narrow seventh left him making up the numbers before he dropped yet another shot at the tough 10th, where he missed the green.
At the par-five 13th he tried to cut the corner but pulled his drive into Rae’s Creek and did well to make par.
But he them two-putted the par-five 15th for birdie, drained a 28 footer at the 17th and fired a short iron to three feet at the last to finish in style.
“I know when I get it going I can make a few birdies and I can shoot the scores,” he said.
“But it's just making sure that I don't let a round get away from me, like it sort of did yesterday.
"I've been saying that the last three years I've been coming here, I still haven't figured out how to do it.”
As for reading the greens, he said: “I feel like I've hit a lot of good putts this week that have either hit the top edge of the hole or the bottom edge of the hole. So it's not like they're bad putts, they just haven't really been dropping.
“I don't know if it's a speed thing more than anything else either, but it was nice to see a couple go in on the back nine.”
Darren Clarke fired four bogeys and three birdies in a 73 to finish on five over and insisted his game is coming around.
Hoping to peak in the summer when he chases a second Open title at Hoylake in July, he said: "A 73 is not bad and I had a lot of chances round the back nine today, so hopefully we will be a little bit better tomorrow and I can get under par.
"My game is getting there slowly but surely and it feels as if I am on the right path again."