McIlroy has not choked this week he just came to a gunfight with a knife

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Rory McIlroy needs to win another major championship before he can consider completing the career grand slam with a maiden Masters victory.

Despite registering seven top-10s at Augusta National in his previous fifteen starts, he has only ever had a realistic chance to win on Sunday twice. When weighed against expectations, his record at the season’s first major is wretched.

McIlroy has admitted that the Masters falls at a period of the season where he rarely has his best stuff and he has tried just about every approach leading into the tournament in order to get into prime shape.

The decision to pack his schedule was the correct one, however, he just isn’t playing well enough so far this year to have had a realistic chance this week.

McIlroy need only look at the summit of the leaderboard through 36 holes and he will see Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler.

Both former major champions who are playing well. Like it or lump it, DeChambeau has shown some strong recent form on the LIV Golf League while Scheffler is at the peak of his powers.

McIlroy, on the other hand, has been plagued by a left miss all season and the tone for an iffy few months was set in Abu Dhabi when he inexplicably turned one over on the 72nd hole to hand the title to Tommy Fleetwood.

Talk that a recent visit to Butch Harmon would fix that mistake was out of hope more than belief, McIlroy looks out of his routine over the golf ball, he is non committal and he is swinging with too many thoughts in his head. His late night sessions at the Augusta range show this is a man who is searching for his game, not someone who arrived with the game to win.

The four-time major winner did plenty of good things in round one but the fact he has failed to birdie the eight par fives over the first two days has handicapped (pardon the pun) him. Meanwhile, Scheffler (4), De Chambeau (3) and Homa (3) have been able to find birdies.

Where would McIlroy be had he found even just four birdies?

Watching the Holywood man on the back nine last night was a little bit sad. A man with no idea where the ball is going, laughing and joking sarcastically as a tenth attempt at the grand slam slipped away from him.

The difference in approaches between McIlroy and Scheffler into the eleventh green told everything you needed to know. One is a man who is in complete control of his golf ball, the other a frazzled, dishevelled mess who hasn’t a clue which way is up.

It must be added that conditions on Friday were as tough as anyone has seen in quite some time and you’re going into a gunfight with a knife if you haven’t got your A game.

Defending champion Jon Rahm said as much: “It’s a very bad day not to be comfortable with the swing, that’s for sure. Yeah, just fighting it all day, never comfortable. I didn’t give myself a lot of chances, and it was a last ditch effort at the end to try and make the cut.”

If that’s what the defending champion is saying then it is unfair to paint McIlroy with a different brush. This is not the bottle job that it was last year. The Masters has come at a time where he just is not playing well at the moment and a journey back to the top needs to begin before he can entertain notions of green jackets.

And yet, at ten shots back heading into the weekend we are in peak Rory McIlroy freewheeling territory where a 65 or 66 might just rekindle his all but ended hopes of the career grand slam.

“I won from 10 back in Dubai at the start of the year. But obviously the Dubai Desert Classic and the Masters are two very different golf tournaments. I still think I can go out tomorrow and shoot a low one, get back into red numbers, and have half a chance going into Sunday.”

Even at his lowest ebb, he always manages to suck you back in.

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