Rory McIlroy and the Masters cut no one saw coming

Rory McIlroy is 17 shots behind leader Brooks Koepka

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Something was wrong as Rory McIlroy’s right hand flew from his club, but the warning signs had been clear long before then. As his approach into the 11th tumbled down the bank and into the pond beside the green, McIlroy slumped at the realisation that another chance was slipping by at the Masters. Unlike last year, there is no hope of a comeback from here. For only the second time since his debut at Augusta, McIlroy will surely be missing by the weekend after finishing his Friday with an overall score of +5.

Whether McIlroy makes the cut is now out of his hands. Although his fate may be delayed by the storms that are due to descend on Augusta, there was a resigned look as he took off his cap after a closing bogey at the 18th. His round, by then, had spiralled out of control. With Brooks Koepka setting an imposing target and playing with the confidence of a Masters champion, McIlroy grappled desperately at the other end of the leaderboard. He could not find the form to survive, let alone contend.

It’s fair to say no one saw this coming. It was thought that McIlroy had it figured out, arriving at the Masters after rediscovering his form and status, sparked by his sensational Sunday at Augusta last year. That was the moment where the pieces of the puzzle had supposedly slid into place. After nine previous attempts, the consensus was that McIlroy had the ingredients and recipe to make history and become only the sixth man to win golf’s career grand slam.

But the pressure of expectation at the Masters has claimed its latest victim. McIlroy needed some magic after Thursday’s slow start. In favourable scoring conditions earlier in the day, ahead of the storms, McIlroy began his second round seven shots off the overnight lead held by Koepka, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland. He insisted they remained in touching distance when he finished his round on Thursday night.


Yet as Koepka pulled away the following day, reaching -10 by the turn, McIlroy fell further behind and the harder he kicked, the deeper Augusta pulled him in. He made it hard for himself, continually ending up in the wrong position. Augusta can force you onto the back foot and McIlroy had the look of a player chasing his losses. McIlroy needed a birdie as he stood on the 18th, only to send his drive spinning into trouble in the trees.

It at least provided closure to a disastrous round. The first bogey of a torrid front nine came at the par-5 second, a hole negotiated poorly from start to finish. A chip at the par-4 third skirted across the green and down the bank at the other side, leading to a second bogey. McIlroy steadied but was unable to find the birdies to reflect that on the scoreboard. By the turn, McIlroy was +4 for his round, further bogeys coming as his putting became tentative and anxious.

With Koepka stretching his lead, McIlroy found himself 16 shots off the pace at the start of the back nine. The green jacket was gone and the career grand slam had vanished from view as well. His round became about the grind of making the weekend, and setting up the chance for moments like last year’s bunker shot at the 18th. Then McIlroy stood over his approach to the 11th, and the memories of 2022 faded further from the picture.

McIlroy was on the back foot as he chased Koepka

McIlroy responded and found birdies on the par-5s at the 13th and 15th, but it didn’t tell the full story. At the 15th, his eagle putt skidded horribly past the hole. After he looked to have steadied from the tee, his approach at the 16th landed him in further trouble and a sixth bogey of the round followed. If that wasn’t terminal to his chances, what then transpired at the 18th surely finished it off.

Perhaps it all went wrong after Koepka and his imposing score bludgeoned its way into McIlroy’s mind. The American was magnificent, backing up his opening round of 65 with a bogey-free 67. He balanced his bulk with considered patience and supreme iron play from the fairways, destroying the par-5s and going -5 through the four holes, including a fine eagle at the eighth.


It sparked a marvellous run through Amen Corner as Koepka’s wonderful approaches set up several birdie opportunities – that his putter went slightly cold is the only reason the four-time major winner is not already wearing the yellow jacket heading into the weekend. Nevertheless, he duly mopped up the 13th and 15th, sending a warning to Rahm and Hovland as ominous as the forecast before they had even taken to the course.

McIlroy, meanwhile, was staring at a familiar picture. With Scottie Scheffler leading from the front, McIlroy was barely in contention over the first three days at Augusta last year, but hung around long enough to card his astonishing round of 64 on Sunday and finish second. McIlroy’s closing bunker shot at the 18th was his finest Masters moment, and was supposed to lead to the most triumphant of returns. Now, he won’t even see the weekend.

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