Masters: Rory McIlroy’s hopes of a career Grand Slam recede into the distance for another year


As Rory McIlroy’s hopes of completing the career Grand Slam receded into the distance for another year, the unlikely sight of Charl Schwartzel tied for the early second-round lead at the 86th Masters felt like insult added to injury.

The South African was the man who slipped on the green jacket unnoticed in 2011 while everyone else wanted to wrap their arms around 21-year-old McIlroy, after the Northern Irishman collapsed over the final nine holes.

McIlroy made a wonderful recovery thereafter to win the next major played — the US Open — by a street and also the Open and two PGAs for good measure in the years that followed. 

Rory McIlroy’s hopes of completing the career Grand Slam receded into the distance again

56393133 10701411 image m 13 1649455711119

But he’s never come so close since that fateful Augusta afternoon to claiming the season’s first major, and he spent his time on Friday fretting and sweating over making the halfway cut, rather than getting in position to win.

McIlroy felt he’d played better than he scored in his opening round of 73, but even allowing for the admittedly capricious breezes that made life difficult for everyone, there were still too many mistakes over the first two-thirds of his round to force his way into contention. 

At the 11th, matters came to a head as he backhanded his golf ball into the water by the side of the green after running up a double bogey on the hole that has caused him plenty of grief in the past.

McIlroy's misery was compounded by the unlikely sight of Charl Schwartzel tied for the early second-round lead

McIlroy’s misery was compounded by the unlikely sight of Charl Schwartzel tied for the early second-round lead

Now he was four over for the championship, and hovering on the cut line. In the build-up McIlroy had spoken about going against his natural instincts and playing conservatively. 

After that double, it was like the shackles came off. He could have birdied every hole from the 12th to the 16th, following a series of glorious shots. As it was, he birdied two of them, to move back to two over, where he finished, so maybe all Grand Slam hope is not lost. Fingers crossed he sticks with the same freewheeling strategy over the weekend.

Playing alongside McIlroy was the studious Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, a far better player than his average majors record suggests. After opening with a 71, the 27-year-old from Sheffield started his second round slowly with a three-putt at the first and then failing to get his birdie at the par-five second. 

Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick started his second round slowly with a three-putt at the first

Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick started his second round slowly with a three-putt at the first

Slowly he found his rhythm, getting a good birdie at the sixth and following it with a succession of pars. He finished with a 73 to be two ahead of McIlroy.

What a contrast in atmosphere compared to the opening morning, when Tiger Woods had played. It was like that at a concert during the warm-up act, while waiting for the leading attraction. 

Woods eventually turned up in Seve blue but from the moment he started doing some awkward-looking stretches on the first tee, this was a round more like one you’d expect from a man who hadn’t played competitively for 506 days, as opposed to his miraculous first-round 71.

Over the first six holes, Woods mustered four bogeys as the putts slipped by rather than falling into the hole, and every mistake was punished. From one under he had fallen to three over. He was another looking nervously at the halfway cut mark.

Tiger Woods mustered four bogeys through the first six holes as the putts slipped by

Tiger Woods mustered four bogeys through the first six holes as the putts slipped by

Like McIlroy, Collin Morikawa began on one over and knew that any round under par would put him in contention going into the weekend. 

After months where the Open Champion had been far from his best, how typical of the 25-year- old that those piercing iron shots should start to find their targets once more now the majors season has begun. Morikawa stitched together a 70 and is in red figures going into the weekend, just two off the early lead.

EARLY SCORES 

-3 C Schwartzel (SA) 72, 69; S-J Im (S Kor) 67, 74

-2 H Varner III 71, 71; D Johnson 69, 73

-1 C Conners (Can) 70, 73; C Morikawa 73, 70

PAR C Bezuidenhout (SA) 73, 71

+1 W Simpson 71 ,74

+2 R MacIntyre (Sco) 73, 73; B Watson 73, 73; L Westwood (Eng) 72, 74; T Hatton (Eng) 72, 74; S Garcia (Spa) 72, 74

+3 C Champ 72, 75; R Henley 73, 74; T Hoge 73, 74; P Reed 74, 73

+4 L Glover 72, 76; C Davis (Aus) 75, 73; S Power (Ire) 74, 74; M Leishman (Aus) 73, 75

+5 T Kanaya (Jpn) 75, 74; S Burns 75, 74

+6 L Herbert (Aus) 74, 76;

+7 *K Nakajima (Jpn) 72, 79; A Ancer (Mex) 72, 79

+8 B Langer (Ger) 76, 76; J Rose (Eng) 76, 76; E Van Rooyen (SA) 73, 79; G Woodland 75, 77

+14 S Lyle (Sco) 82, 76

+15 T Pieters (Bel) 79, 80

+16 *S Hagestad 79, 81

+22 *L Shepherd (Eng) 81, 85

 

Playing alongside him, the 2020 champion Dustin Johnson had a round that was very un-Dustin-like with plenty of grind and little flair. The 37-year-old got the job done, however. He had one birdie all day to go alongside two bogeys in a 73 that left him on two under.

How on earth do you explain Schwartzel’s appearance alongside Korean Im Sung-jae after a second-round 69 gave him a share of top spot? Now 37, he came into this event on the back of six straight missed cuts, but he turned the clock back with a skilfully composed performance.

At first glance it might look as if his victory in 2011 was all about being the beneficiary of McIlroy’s inexperience, but let’s not forget he finished with four straight birdies to win. So no-one handed it to him. Not really.

Speaking of former winners, 34 years after becoming the first British golfer to win the Masters, Sandy Lyle announced that next year’s edition will be his last.

With rounds of 82 and 76, he completed his 100th major and, rather characteristic of the modest Scot, he had no clue that he had appeared in so many.

‘I didn’t realise they had data for that sort of thing,’ said the 64-year-old, seemingly oblivious that all it took was for someone to go through his career and add them up.

What an extraordinary career as well, with not only a green jacket to his name but the Claret Jug. He also remains the only Englishman or Scot to win the Players Championship.

His first major was as a 16-year- old amateur at the Open at Royal Lytham, and never have you seen someone look so good so young. No wonder Seve Ballesteros called him ‘the most talented of us’.

Yet it was a career that burned out almost as quickly. In those 100 majors, he missed no fewer than 47 halfway cuts, and had only two other top-10 finishes outside his two victories.

Is that a better career than Lee Westwood’s, with all his near misses, or that of Lyle’s fellow Scot Colin Montgomerie? Certainly, there’s only one of them who can choose the moment they finish playing in the Masters. Or the Open.



Source link