AUGUSTA, Georgia – Rory McIlroy knows better than most how quickly fortunes can change in the Masters.
He was eight shots behind Friday and headed to the scariest par 3 at Augusta National in tree-shaking wind. All that mattered was picking the right club, hoping for the right wind and getting it somewhere on the 12th green. He did just that, made his par and began an important climb back into contention.
With birdies on the par 5s and a bonus birdie from a 40-foot putt on the par-3 16th, McIlroy recovered for a 1-under 71 that put him right in the thick of the tournament going into the weekend.
“The most comfortable thing for me on this golf course is knowing that even if you are five or six shots back, things can change quite quickly,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been on the opposite end of that where things can start to get away from you.”
A green jacket is all that keeps McIlroy from the career Grand Slam. He looked to have that wrapped up five years ago when he took a four-shot lead into the final round, only to close with an 80 and finish 10 shots behind.
McIlroy is a long way from redemption. The Masters doesn’t really get started until the weekend.
But it’s clearly on his mind.
“I sort of feel that Augusta owes me something, and I have come with that attitude,” McIlroy said to Irish radio network RTE. “I have come here to get something that I should have had a long time ago.”
Those birdies on the par 5s — a good chip from behind the 13th green, a 5-wood onto the green for a two-putt on the 15th — were just what he needed. And the putt on the 16th to the toughest pin signaled that his fortunes indeed were changing.
“I started it … maybe 6 feet left of the hole and just got it up there really, really high,” McIlroy said. “And basically let gravity and wind take it the rest of the way. I was just looking to two-putt, try to get it within 2 or 3 feet of the hole. And it was a bonus when it dropped.”
On Thursday, McIlroy was 4-under par and challenging for the lead when he bogeyed two of the last three to fall four shots back. He was 4 under again on Friday when he made double bogey on No. 4, hit a poor pitch that didn’t reach the green on No. 5 and was back to even par for the tournament when he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 11th.
He was determined to finish better in the second round, and he did.
“I probably would have taken three pars to finish and I would have been happy,” he said.
Along with the unlikely birdie on the 16th, he had to get out of the trees right of the 18th fairway, and then pitched to 6 feet and saved par. His caddie kept reminding him that par was a good score in wind like this. Not only was a score under par good, it was rare on this day.
McIlroy said after posting a 3-under 141 that it didn’t matter what the leaders did on the back nine. He paused when he said “leaders” and glanced over at the electronic leaderboard in the press center. At the time, Jordan Spieth was at 5 under and Bryson DeChambeau was tied with McIlroy at 3 under.
He resumed his thought by changing “leaders” to “guys.” As tough it was, there was no telling at that point what or who was going to be leading.
“I know I’m in a good position going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “And I’m happy with that.”