Rory McIlroy feels somewhat aggrieved that he didn’t win the 2011 Masters but rather than feeling he’s owed a green jacket, he will have go out and rip it off Jordan Spieth’s back over the weekend.
The game’s two young turks will go head to head on Saturday with Spieth’s 74 leaving him a shot ahead of McIlroy, who played his last six holes in three under par to post a joint best of the day 71 in treacherous swirling winds.
It was surprising to hear McIlroy admit what he’d denied previously and confess that he feels the Masters owes him.
“I sort of feel that Augusta owes me something and I have come with that attitude,” McIlroy said. “I have come here to get something that I should have had a long time ago. You need to be so focussed and in control of your emotions here. It’s about not getting fazed and mentally I have been good the last couple of days. I need to keep that going for the next two days.”
McIlroy insisted the wasn’t thinking too much about his duel with Spieth. But the American got any doubts about what it means when he said he’d be somewhat intimidated by the man from Northern Ireland.
“No, I don't think it's a comfort level,” he said when asked about being paired with a player he likes. “I'd rather be playing with someone less threatening to be honest. He’s certainly proven himself in majors. But I think it's going to be fun, a really fun challenge.”
With the top 22 on the leaderboard covered by five shots it promises to be an exciting weekend with more carnage forecast on Saturday as the west wind is expected to blow hard once more.
McIlroy got off to a flying start with birdies at the second and third. But he then had one of his famous wobbles with his 13th double bogey at Augusta at the fourth (he three putted after bunkering his tee shot) and a bogey at the fifth, leaving him back on two under par.
When he three putted the 11th to fall back to level par, he looked up at the leaderboard to see that Spieth had started birdie-par-birdie to go eight shots ahead on eight under par.
It wasn’t the best time to play the tough, par three 12th with its swirling wind but MciLroy found the green, made par and then birdied the 13th and the 15th before making an outlandish 40 footer for a two at the 16th.
A miraculous four at the last got him into the clubhouse at three under and Spieth suddenly started shedding shots over the last 14 holes with a four putt double bogey at the fifth undergoing his early good work.
While he birdied the eighth, he dropped another shot at the ninth to tin in level par, then came home in two over with bogeys at the 16th and 17th followed by a gutsy 15 foot par save at the last for a 74.
"The most comfortable thing for me on this golf course is knowing that even if you are five or six shots back, things can change quite quickly," McIlroy said. "I've been on the opposite end of that where things can start to get away from you."
A green jacket is all that stands between McIlroy and the career Grand Slam.
He had one arm in that jacket back in 2011 when he took a four-shot lead into the final round, only to close with an 80 and finish 10 shots behind.
Redemption is at hand and if he continues to play the par fives well — he’s seven under this week for the eight holes — he will take a lot of stopping.
His birdie at the 16th was certainly a bonus and he’s clearly closed the gap on SPieth on the greens. Whether he can make it count when the Masters is on the line remains to be seen.
"I started it ... maybe 6 feet left of the hole and just got it up there really, really high," McIlroy said of his outlandish two at the 16th.
"And basically let gravity and wind take it the rest of the way. I was just looking to two-putt, try to get it within 2 or 3 feet of the hole. And it was a bonus when it dropped."
"I probably would have taken three pars to finish and I would have been happy," he added in reference to his determination not to drop late shots as he did on Thursday
As for his head to head with Spieth, he tried to play it down.
But having shown signs that Spieth’s putting prowess frustrates him — it was clear at Doral when he reacted to a Spieth birdie on the eighth with a double bogey five at the next — he will have to try doubly hard not to get sucked in to a putting contest.
It would add a lot of excitement and buzz and atmosphere to the tournament obviously,” he conceded. “I've been concentrating, I've said this from the start, I've been concentrating on myself out there, because if you start to think about anyone else ‑‑ I've only got the mental capacity to focus on me right now and especially how tough it is out there. Just focusing on myself, battling and grinding and digging deep when I need to; I think I'm going to have to do that again tomorrow regardless of who I play with, because it looks like the conditions are going to be similar.
“Yeah, it would be great for the tournament and create a lot of buzz, but at the same time, I just need to focus on myself and make sure that I play another solid round of golf.”
Reflecting on the importance of his round, he hit the nail on the head when he said: “It's up there. I kept my composure and I played the shots when I needed to. So it's only the second day; there's still two days to go.
“But it's a great round and it's nice to be up there near the lead going into the weekend here instead of on the cut line and having to battle back where I found myself the last couple years. I'm happy with where I'm at.”