Just when it seemed he was coping with all that windy Augusta National could throw at him Rory McIlroy dropped a crushing five shots in two holes today and tumbled off The Masters leaderboard.
And it appeared to leave the 19-year-old shell-shocked.
Asked to speak to waiting reporters he told a club official: “I don’t feel like it right now.”
McIlroy had climbed from 39th place to sixth with a superb run that included a 10-foot eagle putt on the 13th, but then came to grief first with a four-putt double bogey on the short 16th.
His birdie attempt up the ridge ran eight feet past and by taking three more from there he fell back to two under – suddenly seven strokes adrift of Americans Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry.
But worse was to come. Bunkered in two on the last he left his attempted recovery in the sand, could not get close with his next and needed three more for a triple bogey seven.
With a 73 he was one over and likely to make the halfway cut right on the limit.
Amazingly it left 51-year-old Sandy Lyle, champion in 1988, as the joint leading European with Graeme McDowell on two under alongside Tiger Woods.
Lyle opened the tournament with a double bogey six, but five successive birdies from the 13th this afternoon lifted him to three under before he bogeyed the last for a 70.
Woods, meanwhile, bogeyed the 18th for the second day running and had to settle for a 72, with triple-chasing Padraig Harrington one further back following bogeys at the seventh and ninth for a disappointing outward 38.
In the gusty conditions the course showed far more teeth than it had on the opening day, but Campbell was still able to add a two under par 70 to his dramatic opening 65.
The 34-year-old Texan even reached 11 under after 10 holes, then bogeyed three of the next seven before closing with a 30-foot birdie putt.
Ryder Cup teammate Perry did supremely well to keep a bogey off his card and with birdies on the first, second, 12th, 15th and then the last from five feet he was round in 67.
They were three clear of 2004 Open champion Todd Hamilton – a long-awaited return to form for a player now ranked 373rd in the world – Jim Furyk and Argentina’s Angel Cabrera.
McDowell thought he was going well until he looked up and saw what he called the “unbelievable” golf at the top.
McDowell carded a 73 to be two under par and was left to rue a six on the long 15th, where he went for the green in two and saw his ball sail 40 yards over the green.
“I thought it might reach the water,” he said. “I played it as wind against, but it’s very difficult to pick it and it left me in a horrible place.
“I was happy to walk off with a six in the end.” He needed two chips to make the fringe, sent a putt seven-foot by, but made it coming back.
“A 73 is a little disappointing, but I think the course is only going to get trickier.
“That’s Augusta – it gives and takes away just as fast. I couldn’t believe Chad had got to 11 under, but I see he’s leaking some oil now.”
Ian Poulter matched McDowell’s 73 for a level par aggregate, the same as Houston Open winner Paul Casey, and commented: “The back nine is as swirly as I’ve ever seen it – brutal compared to yesterday. Bizarre.”
He went in the water at the 12th despite switching from a nine-iron to an eight-iron.
“There are a lot of shots with danger and there’s not a lot you can do. If I’d hit seven-iron it would have been in the bushes and I’d have made loads.”
As it was he saved a bogey four with an eight-foot putt and parred in.
Ian Woosnam, whose mother died earlier in the week, managed only a front-nine 40 to stand six over, while fellow former winners Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson showed their age sadly with 83s.
England’s Ross Fisher, five under after 16 holes yesterday, followed two closing bogeys with an outward 37 and then double-bogeyed the short 12th to stand level par.
Luke Donald went the other way. He had been four over after 12 yesterday, recovered for a 73 and turned in 33 this afternoon to improve to two under. But then came bogeys on the 11th and 12th.
Lee Westwood was one under with seven to go and Oliver Wilson and Justin Rose two over after eight and 10 respectively.