A SHELL-SHOCKED Rory McIlroy refused to speak to waiting reporters after suffering golfing disaster of the most shattering kind at Augusta National last night.
Four under for the tournament after a magnificent eagle at the 13th followed by a birdie at the 15th, he looked set for a big week-end at the 73rd Masters.
However, it was as if the great golf course was waiting in the long grass to teach the young upstart not to underestimate its many wiles and intricacies.
The 19-year-old hit a mediocre tee shot to the short 16th, charged the first putt eight feet past and then took three more to get down.
If a bogey five there was bad, there was much worse to follow at the 18th. After a perfect drive, he pushed his approach into a bunker.
After failing to get out at the first attempt, he sent the next scuttling across the green and predictably enough three putted. The loss of five shots in his last three holes meant that McIlroy completed the 36 holes on one over par, the cut mark.
Terrible though McIlroy's finish was, there might be an even more damaging conclusion to his day.
The question was raised with officials whether he had kicked the sand before hitting his next shot out of the bunker on the last. That would be a breach of the rules.
“I don’t feel like talking right now,” were his exact words as, head down, he strode past the media.
Some felt he was guilty of arrogance and bad manners. Perhaps, but you only have to put yourself in the youngster’s shoes to understand just how down he must have felt.
At that point, getting through to the week-end must would have sounded scant consolation and it wouldn’t have helped that one of his partners, Anthony Kim, showed what could be done by setting a new Masters record of eleven birdies, beating the old mark of ten set by Nick Price in 1986.
To be fair, McIlroy himself had also played some beautiful golf throughout a testing day, the towering four iron he left four feet below the 13th hole for a majestic eagle three being a shining example.
He will get over this shattering setback, although it will be fascinating how he reacts through the next couple of days.
McIlroy’s fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell is also safely through with a two under par total of 142. He seemed relieved and content to have made the cut having failed to do so on his only previous appearance here in 2005.
He admitted to no more than “disappointment” at allowing his round to unravel somewhat on the homeward journey as he settled for a 73, having been five under for the tournament through eleven holes.
McDowell clearly believes in the power of positive thinking and is looking forward to a big closing 36 holes.
“Four years on, I feel I’m a better player and I believe I showed it over the last couple of days,” said McDowell.
“You always want to put your game to the ultimate test and these are the ultimate tests. It’s nice to come to major championships and get yourself into position going into the weekend. That’s all you can reasonably ask for.
“There’s no point in leading it this evening, there’s no point in leading it tomorrow evening, Sunday evening is what it’s all about. I want to get myself into the last few groups on Sunday and that’s what I’m aiming for.”
When he birdied the 10th courtesy of a 45 foot putt and atoned for a careless bogey at the short 12th with a birdie at the 13th, McDowell had moved to five under for the tournament and into a tie for 5th place.
For the second successive day, however, he finished poorly as he dropped shots at the 14th, the par five 15th and the 17th, and needed to hole a seven-footer for par at the 18th after driving into a bunker.
“The wind was very difficult on the back nine and I was certainly on the wrong end of a few gusts,” he said.
“The 15th was the most obvious case. I was playing the wind against and hit a pretty good shot but it switched and hit it right over everything by about 45 yards.
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