Rory McIlroy has cast doubt on his ability to win the Masters. He is struggling with the mental challenge of claiming victory at Augusta National.
McIlroy, 26, chalked up his third successive top-10 finish here, on Sunday, as he closed with a one-under-par 71 at one over, six shots behind new champion, Danny Willett, his 2007 Walker Cup team-mate, in a tie for 10th.
Yet the Irishman is still a way off conquering Augusta and collecting the one major title that will complete his career grand slam, his quest this year effectively ending in the third round.
McIlroy had started the weekend just a shot back from 36-hole leader and defending champion, Jordan Spieth, only for a crushing round of 77 to knock him back amongst the also-rans.
Still not out of it at two-over-par, with Spieth leading at three-under, McIlroy needed a fast start to his final round, on Sunday, but failed to engage ignition, and his challenge fell at the first hurdle, with a bogey at the opening hole, all momentum snuffed out for a second time in as many days.
Revealingly, the four-time major champion did not blame the mehcanics of his game, but his mental approach, in a tournament that emotionally scarred him in 2011, when he blew a four-shot lead on the last day, only to shoot an 80.
Now, with the pressure of the slam piled on top, since he added The Open to his US Open and two PGA titles, in 2014, McIlroy admitted there were demons regarding Augusta National.
“This is the one that I haven’t won and this is the one I want to win more than anything else,” McIlroy said. “I won a Claret Jug, I want to win more. I won a Wanamaker (for the PGA), I won the US Open, but this is the one that I haven’t.
“Once I overcome that mental hurdle that I’m struggling with, at the minute, then I know how to play this course. I’ve played this course very well before, and I can string good rounds together here, but it’s just a matter of doing it.
“I need to be better mentally. I was just very……I’m not sure what the word is. I don’t know if it’s weak or whatever it is. I was anxious and I was nervous, which you are going to be, and I just didn’t handle it the best. Out of every tournament in the world that we play, this is the one where I feel a little different from the others, for obvious reasons, and I just need to learn how to control that better.
“I don’t think anything in my game is holding me back. I think it is more the mental challenge of coming here to try and do something I have never done before and knowing the scale of that achievement. That’s what I need to deal with better. I didn’t do it this week, but, hopefully, I can improve that as the years go on.
“I know how to play this course. I know this course probably just as good as any other in the world. It’s playing it when it really matters.
“I could go round here and shoot 60 standing on my head when it doesn’t mean anything, but whenever you are playing for something else is when I have to step up and play the golf that I know I can.
“I don’t think there’s anything missing from my game physically. From my swing to the way I hit the ball to pitching and chipping and putting — it’s all sort of there, but I need to put it all together when I need to. I wasn’t able to do that on Saturday and that is what has cost me the tournament.”
McIlroy came into the Masters admitting his putting had been the weak link in his game and those flaws came back to bite him on the weekend in Augusta, although he said that played no part in his failure to win here.
“I feel like it’s been okay. I’m not coming away from here that disappointed with my putting, to be honest. Putting here is more difficult than anywhere else that we play on tour. I hit good putts that didn’t go in and I’ve hit not-so-good putts and I made a few three-putts, but that’s to be expected out here.
“When I look back on it, I don’t think that’s what’s cost me the tournament this week at all,” McIlroy said.
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