Rory McIlroy brushed off a likely Friday the 13th horror show to brilliantly muscle his way back into contention at the rain-affected Masters at Augusta National. McIlroy first played the closing nine holes of his delayed first round signing for a potentially disastrous 75 only to emerge from a 30-min lunch break to sign for a sizzling and bogey-free six-under par 66.
It sent McIlroy climbing his way from two shots outside the projected Augusta cut to fight his way to a then clubhouse share of 27th place on three-under par. He trailed the then clubhouse leading foursome – Australia’s Cam Smith (66), Mexican Abraham Ancer (67) and the American duo of Justin Thomas (69) and Dustin Johnson (70) at nine-under par.
McIlroy’s second round was his lowest Masters second effort by three shots and one shot shy of his Augusta low of a 65 on day two in 2011 and also on day three in 2018. It’s also only the 12th occasion in 44 rounds on the Georgia course that McIlroy has broken 70. Never has a 30-minute lunch break turned around McIlroy’s fortunes so much and while he remained in the same clothes, it was like someone else had stepped into McIlroy’s Nike ‘Rosche G Tour’ shoes. What then did McIlroy do during the short lunch break?
“I went straight to the range and hit five 9-irons and a 3-wood and just tried to get myself to release the club better, as sometimes I just get so ‘draggy’ and hold onto it too much,” he said.
“So, it was all about trying to release the club a bit more and being a little more committed to my shots. Also, Jimmy Dunne (Friend & Augusta member) gave me a pep talk. So, I’ve shot a good one and managed to turn it around, and give myself a chance.”
His opening two rounds in a 12th Masters was as contrasting as day to night with McIlroy more like a lost patron than a veteran of 42 prior Augusta rounds. Officially, at the close of his first round he managed just two birdies but also five bogeys – four of those on his back nine including a horror drive deep into the trees left off the 13th hole.
His second round, however, also starting at the 10th for a second occasion in some three hours, began positively first in holing a 10-footer for birdie, hitting a tree branch down the right of 11 to save par and then draining a 13-footer at the par-3 12th hole for another birdie. That’s three one-putts in succession compared to taking six putts over the same trio of holes earlier in the day.
McIlroy then came to the 13th but was in more trouble but not due to his own fault with his ball, safely down the right side of the hole, coming to rest against a coil of TV cable from where he got a ‘free drop’ on route to a par. He then got back to level par for the Masters sinking a 16-footer for birdie at 15 and then sank an 18-foot one putt at 17 for the fourth birdie of his round.
McIlroy now had every TV commentator’s attention for all the right reasons two-putting the downhill par-5 second for yet another birdie and now safely inside the cut-off mark sharing 28th place. And if you needed an example of a turnaround in fortunes for McIlroy was evident off the 3rd hole when his tee-shot veered right into trees only for his ball to ricochet off a branch and kick left onto the fairway for a saving par.
McIlroy got another break at the next, the par-3 fourth hole, when he was bent over after his tee shot and staring down his ball that missed a greenside bunker by inches to find the green and two-putt for a par. He also made par on five, six and seven and then moved to six-under, thanks to some McIlroy brilliance in chipping high over the back at the par-5 eighth and rewarded in holing a two-footer for a sixth birdie. McIlroy’s 66 is just a shot shy of his lowest Augusta round of 65 in retaining the lead on day two of the 2011 Masters while he also produced a 65 on day three in 2018 that saw him finish fourth.
“The big thing this week compared to April is so different and you are so used to playing the course from your memories, and like this putt goes that way and this putt breaks that way but that’s all out the window this week,” he said.
“The course is just playing so completely different. The greens are so much softer and so much softer, and then because of that they are using different pin placements that we’ve not seen before either. So, the course is certainly playing a little more different.”
- Full scoring HERE
McILROY’S – FIRST ROUND STATS
- Score – 75 (Highest first round score since 74 in 2010)
- Birdies – 2 (8 & 15)
- Pars – 11
- Bogeys – 5 (1, 10, 13, 14 & 16)
- Fairways hit – 9/14
- Greens in regulation – 9/18
- Putts – 30
McILROY’S – SECOND ROUND STATS
- Score – 66 (Lowest 2nd round by 3 shots & equal third lowest)
- Birdies – 6 (10, 12, 15, 17, 2 & 8)
- Pars – 12
- Bogeys – nil
- Fairways hit –10/14
- Greens in regulation – 15/18
- Putts – 29