Rory McIlroy was in great position on the leaderboard, in the fairway, on the green to make a run in the Masters. He wound up going nowhere.
McIlroy wasn’t ready to give up hope on a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, though he left Augusta National on Saturday with a 1-under 71 that left him wondering how many opportunities he threw away as so many other players were cashing in.
McIlroy was only six shots behind, but he had 10 players ahead of him _ Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, enough of them to make it difficult to expect all of them to stumble on Sunday.
“I think I probably could have shot a 67 or 68, but just a few too many wasted opportunities,” he said.
McIlroy blistered drives of more than 300 yards in the fairway on the two par 5s on the back nine at Augusta, and both times walked off with pars. His pitch from 50 feet behind the 13th green came up 15 feet short. His approach on the 15th hole went over the green, and after a fine pitch to 10 feet, he missed that one, too.
Not to be overlooked was a 10-foot birdie chance on the 14th, and a 5-foot birdie putt he missed on No. 11, the toughest hole on the back nine.
“I’m going to need my best score around _ 65. I’m going to need something like that to have a chance tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I’ll be able to tell you better tomorrow night whether those missed opportunities hurt my chances.”
Nothing irritated him more than the fifth hole.
McIlroy, who started the third round just five shots out of the lead, fired off two quick birdies and a good par save on the par-3 fourth. He was three shots behind, a name on the white leaderboards that was getting everyone’s attention.
And he was in good shape on the par-4 fifth hole. The only thing he couldn’t do was leave it short.
“Had an 8-iron in my hands and then switched to a 9,” McIlroy said. “The one place you don’t want to miss it on that green is short, which I did.”
He was some 40 feet short and ran the first putt 10 feet by. He missed that for a three-putt bogey.
“That sort of stopped any momentum I had,” McIlroy said. “I was a little frustrated.”
Two holes later, his tee shot was caught behind a tree and he punched a lot shot into the front bunker, his best chance at escaping with par. But his sand shot caught the slope and ran some 65 feet away. He left the first putt 12 feet short and had a three-putt double bogey.
“I tried to get cute with a bunker shot,” McIlroy said. “There’s times on this course where you take your medicine and try to just walk away with a par. I sort of got the balance right today, but I didn’t take my opportunities when I could have.”
McIlroy’s last birdie of the third round came on No. 12, and with two par 5s ahead of him, he was poised to get right in the thick of it.
Two more pars.
“I should be making birdie off the tee shots,” McIlroy said. “I was just in between clubs on both of those holes. And I hit the wrong one on both, I guess, and left myself an awkward position. But that’s the way it is.”