It says it all about the effect Augusta National has on Rory McIlroy that he was overtaken by the struggling Jordan Spieth and pleased just to make the cut in the Masters where he arrived as the red-hot betting favourite
Of course, the Co Down man is still there and gunning for one of his famous Saturday charges today. And he needs it too after a second round 71 left him seven strokes behind Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen on level par at halfway
McIlroy’s problem is not just that he’s tied for 36th with nine others but that there are 35 players ahead of him and 11 of them are major winners. He will likely need to shoot two rounds in the mid-sixties now to get close to the winning score and while that’s well within his compass, he has so much traffic to negotiate, it looks a gargantuan task.
He’s zoomed up the weekend leaderboard before. But that was in 2015, when he went 68-66 over the weekend after opening with a pair of 71’s to trail Spieth by 14 strokes and finished fourth, six strokes behind the Texan in the end.
The only other time he has shot back to back rounds in the sixties at Augusta National was in 2011, when he started 65-69 to lead by two and doubled that lead with a 70 on Saturday before carding that well-documented 80 on Sunday.
McIlroy sounded optimistic last night after another roller coaster round featuring twos at the sixth and 16th, an eagle three at the eighth but also sloppy bogeys at the second, 11th and 13th and some hair-raising par saves after some wild drives.
“I think it's just so bunched,” he said pointing to the fact that the top-15 are covered by just three shots. “There's so many guys with a chance coming into the last two days. So if I can get off to a decent start tomorrow, shoot 33 or 32 on the front nine, I'm right back in it.”
McIlroy shot 31 on the front nine on Saturday last year en route to a 65 that took him from fourth to second and within three shots of Patrick Reed.
But whether he’s playing well enough this week to shoot a clean front nine and take advantage of all his chances remains to be seen given that he’s already made nine bogeys over the first two days.
“I don't feel like I'm that far away,” he said. “ To shoot under par today considering some of the breaks I got and some of the shots I hit, and I'm sort of ‑‑ I'm right there.”
He’s right there near the bottom of the leaderboard and needs a lot of help from the players in front if he’s to have a chance. A round of 69 by any of the leaders would leave him needing a 68 to go into the final day six behind at best.
After 40 rounds at the Masters, he’s averaged 35.85 on that front nine compared to 35.775 on the back so an average day is not going to cut it.
He historically plays five holes on the outward nine in over par figures — the first (average score 4.3), fourth (3.125), fifth (4.15), sixth (3.025) and seventh (4.2).
So if there is to be a charge today, he will need to two under par standing one the ninth tee.
If he can do that, Amen Corner will have the final say. But to get there, it may take a few silent prayers and help from the terrestrial sphere too.