Careless errors cost McIlroy green jacket

Rory McIlroy finished eight shots behind Bubba Watson in the Masters but was it his putting, his play on the par-fives or a combination of the two that cost him a chance to win his first green jacket?

In truth, it was a combination of both. Watson played the par-fives in eight under to McIlroy's level but it was McIlroy who scored better at the weekend, shooting rounds of 71 and 69 to Watson 74-69.

Comparing the two-time Masters champion to the man many believe will win multiple green jackets is interesting.

As far as power goes, there's little in it from this 1-2 duo. Watson drove the ball 305.62 yards on average to second placed McIlroy's 304 yards. Let's call that a draw.

Who's more accurate? Watson was slightly straighter, hitting 40 of 56 fairways (71.43%) to Rory's 38. Another virtual draw.

Greens in regulation? Rory was beaten only by Jordan Spieth, hitting 52 of 72 (72.22%) to Bubba's 50. Again, the difference is pretty negligible.

When it came to the par-fives, Watson made an eagle, six birdies and nine pars (8 under) to McIlroy's five birdies, five bogeys and four pars (even). 

That's a lot of mistakes on par fives. While Watson made one eagle and 15 birdies over 72 holes, McIlroy had 16 birdies but far more mistakes.

The difference was in the mistakes they made with the two-time Masters champion racking up just nine bogeys as McIlroy had 12 bogeys and two double bogeys.

Neither of the double bogeys came on par fives but on a par-three (the fourth) and a par-four (the 10th) during the second round 77 that was truly to blame for McIlroy's failure to win this Masters.

Yes, he was poor on the greens, taking more putts than anyone else in the field (125) bar first-timers Jimmy Walker (126) and Billy Horschel (131).

But while his putting was poor at times, there were other factors in play as he racked up a double bogey five at the fouth and six sixes, five of them on par-fivees.

The big mistakes - 7

  1. 8th Rd  1 - Bogey 6. Missed the green with a wedge and three-putted from the fringe, lipping out from 10 feet.
  2. 2nd Rd  2 - Bogey 6. Drove left. Penalty. Missed 12 footer for par on low side.
  3. 4th Rd 2 - Double bogey 5. Flew 30 yards through the green with a five wood into bushes, narrowly missing Adam Scott on the fifth tee. Forced to go back to the tee he bunkered his third with an iron but got up and down.
  4. 10th Rd 2 - Double bogey six. Hit a huge drive but missed green long left in the bushes. Didn't make the green in three. Missed an eight footer for bogey.
  5. 13th Rd  2 - Bogey six. Missed green in two with a nine iron, hit a sprinkler head and bounced into the azaleas. Chipped 15 ft past in four and missed the putt.
  6. 13th Rd  4 - Bogey six. Came up just short with his second in Rae's Creek. Pitched 12 feet above the hole. Missed low for par.
  7. 15th Rd 4 - Bogey six. Hit a huge drive into first cut on the left. Flew the green and took four to get down, missing a three and a half footer for par.

It was no surprise that he blamed his performance on the par-fives for his failure to win and while a career best share of eighth place was his first Top-10 at Augusta in six starts, he admitted that his putting was well below par.

"I played the par-fives in even par this week, which you just can't do out here," McIlroy said.  "I'm even par for the tournament and even par for the par-fives.  So you're looking to play the par-fives somewhere around 10 to 12 under par.  And obviously if I had of done that it would have been a different story.

"It's been a frustrating week, because I felt like from tee to green I played as good as the leaders.  I don't think I've ever played as good tee to green around this course as I have this week.  I just need to take some more chances that I've given myself on the greens."

Apart from showing his frustration several times by hurling golf balls into Rae's Creek or the lake in front of the 15th, McIlroy showed a new maturity at Augusta and he admitted that it was a watershed week for him.

"It was.  It was big.  I'm really comfortable on the tees.  I'm really comfortable with the second shots.  I'm comfortable on the golf course.  I figured something in my putting today on the sixth hole and then I putted a little better after that.  I wasn't aiming where I thought I was aiming. I was aiming a little left of where I thought it was.  So I was missing a lot of left to rights."

On his resilience in the face of disappointment, he said: "I was proud of myself after the couple of sixes I had to have a couple of birdies on the back nine.  That was great.  And even some of the bad holes that I had earlier on in the week, to bounce back from them.  Yeah, I've always enjoyed coming back here.  I love the golf course.  I love playing it.  And I know I can do well here.

"It's just a matter of making the most of my chances because I gave myself plenty of chances here this week.  If I had converted a few more and just as I said played the par-fives better, it could have been a different story."

On his putting, he added: "It felt really good in Houston last weekend, I shot 65.  And today was a little better.  But at least that gives me something to work on the next couple of weeks heading to Charlotte and obviously building up towards the U.S. Open.

"At least I figured something out with my putting and I can go with that.  It's something to really work on and something to get right.  And hopefully I can start seeing a few more putts go in, and get more confidence, because my long game is where I need it to be.  It's just taking advantage of the good shots that I'm hitting."

Augusta no longer holds fears for McIlroy and it would be a major surprise if he fails to win a green jacket some day.

"I feel more comfortable here.  I feel like I can go out and play my game and hit the shots.  I'm definitely not as tentative around this place as I used to be.  I'm becoming a lot more aggressive and hitting iron shots closer.  And I think that's a good thing because I just feel more comfortable on the golf course.  I'm not as scared with some of the trouble, the run-offs, because you know what to expect."

McIlroy's habit of throwing in at least one bad nine holes at Augusta is becoming chronic.

This week it was the back nine on Friday, when he came home in 40 for what proved to be a very costly 77.

With his long game looking as good as ever, it's clearly his short game that's letting him down.

"I've played well," he said. "I've driven the ball as well as I have, ever, I think. I'm driving the ball so well, so long, and for the most par straight, and I've given myself so many opportunities for birdies. I'm just not holing the putts that I need to or that I should.

“So I've got a couple of weeks off to work on that and I'll hopefully come back to the Tour [for Quail Hollow] with a little more confidence in my short game and if my long game's still there it looks like it will be a good season.”