Sports

History repeats itself for Rory McIlroy as ‘little boy lost’ act returns

Zig-zagging wildly from one uncharted swathe of Augusta National to the following, Rory McIlroy spent a lot of his second spherical reprising his well-known “little boy lost” act, by which he tossed away the 2011 Masters by yanking a drive on the tenth up to now left that it got here to relaxation beside a white clapboard cabin. Perhaps the purest ball-striker within the sport, he discovered his radar scrambled right here, his tee-shots on the entrance 9 lacking fairways by such margins that his caddie wanted a map, not a yardage chart.

In mitigation, these have been uncomfortable circumstances at Augusta, with a swirling wind making the judgment of distance a nightmare. “I’m glad to be off the course,” McIlroy mirrored. But he gave the impression to be battling not a lot the rogue gusts as the demons inside his head. Underperforming on the Masters has turn out to be a pathology in his in any other case immaculate sport: eight instances he has arrived realizing {that a} inexperienced jacket would make him solely the sixth man to finish the career grand slam, and on every event, the prospect has overwhelmed him. A fixture on these verdant acres since 2009, he spoke wistfully, after a second successive 73, of “walking away 13 years in a row empty-handed”.

It was mentioned with a smile, given how he scrambled creditably to succeed in the clubhouse at two over par. But the chance, in mild of world No 1 Scottie Scheffler’s imperious kind, is that he’s about to go away a twenty seventh successive main unfulfilled. There are myriad explanations for why McIlroy, a four-time main champion aged 25, continues to be marooned on the identical whole at 32. Marriage and fatherhood have intervened, whereas he regularly means that the pursuit of perfection now not motivates him as as soon as it did.

In a way, that is peculiar: he’s within the prime of his {golfing} life, with a swing of liquid poetry. By the aesthetics of his motion alone, to not point out his energy off the tee and the ingenuity of his escapes, he needs to be striving to dominate the 2020s as Tiger Woods did the 2000s. But the chilly actuality is that he’s struggling even to stay a serial contender.

Eleven years on from his stroll within the Georgia woods, McIlroy got here to grief round Amen Corner once more. This time, his method to the tenth drifted on the breeze right into a greenside bunker, leaving him a slippery eight-footer that didn’t even graze the opening. His lapse on the eleventh was frankly unforgivable. Having break up the green together with his drive, he fanned his second deep into the galleries on the fitting, misreading his par putt so badly that it drifted 5 toes left. Sure sufficient, he lipped out together with his subsequent, lowering him to 4 over and with any hope of victory seemingly sunk.

The jauntiness disappeared from his stride. McIlroy merely slumped on his putter, past phrases of comfort. He had come right here with a plan as exact as it was easy, promising to barter the early rounds with what he known as “negative” golf, aiming for the hearts of greens and resisting pointless dangers.

But such an method is unsustainable when McIlroy performs this erratically. At the second, he launched his drive into the forest, rescuing himself solely with essentially the most unbelievable three-wood between two pine trunks. These items of escapology would return on the fifth, as he in some way threaded his means by overhanging branches from a blind spot within the left-hand tough. It ought to have proved a priceless stroke of genius, had he not then contrived to three-putt from the entrance edge. It was a gap that distilled the essence of McIlroy: the decrease the tariff of problem, the extra his thoughts tends to wander.

The nice frustration is that McIlroy has all of the pictures at his fingertips. While he claimed to be relishing the considered more durable, quicker fairways as the waterlogged course dried out, he forgot the truth that he wanted to hit these fairways within the first place. Instead, the spectre of the “two-way miss” – the dreaded state by which a golfer is simply as liable to drag a drive left as push it proper – returned to hang-out him. Only over the closing six holes, which he performed in two below, did he get better his poise.

All too usually, McIlroy’s undoing at Augusta is that he leaves himself with an excessive amount of to do. While historically an outstanding participant right here on weekends, it’s a fruitless endeavour if he has basically performed himself out of the event inside the primary 36 holes. There is a gnawing sense right here of historical past repeating. In his 14th Masters, McIlroy is aware of exactly what he has to do to understand the prize he covets most, and but he continues to lurch headlong in the direction of the identical pitfalls. “When I try to soften the blow of not playing my best golf, I think, ‘I’m already winning, I’ve got this great life, a wonderful family, and I’ve made all this money.’” Nobody may begrudge him the sentiment. But the extra he toils right here, the extra you sense a valuable piece continues to be lacking.

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