James Lawton: Where it all went wrong for McIlroy at Augusta
There may have been longer, more eviscerating days on a golf course but not, maybe, for someone so young who had only to think back to the morning to yearn for another life and another set of possibilities.
Then, it was just one more walk among the dogwood and the pine, one final statement that it would be on the red soil of Georgia where Rory McIlroy would announce his destiny as a Masters champion of the ages.
It didn't sound so much before you knew that Tiger Woods also had something to say, something which landed which such force, such withering power, that it was as though 16 months of gathering despair simply hadn't happened — and when you considered the ground the 21-year-old Ulsterman had already covered in three days.
But even then you thought quite how much he still had to do, how far he had to play beyond the generation of talented Europeans whose presence had so dwindled since Jose Maria Olazabal won 12 years ago, and this was magnified a little more dramatically which each shaft of Tiger brilliance.
And then we saw quickly enough that it was too much; he had too much weight to carry, too much pressure and when his round became a nightmare, when he ballooned to a triple bogey on the 10th hole and then a double on the 12th it was all you could do not to turn away.
There was so much to lose for McIlroy when he travelled down Magnolia Drive yesterday morning, a champion-elect if we had ever seen one.
The triumph, which stretched over three days now, he had to protect was one of a blessed single-mindedness and spirit. Of course he has been a dazzling presence in the game for some years now, prodigious in his relish and his technical brilliance, but there is only one way to step beyond such high promise and natural facility. It is to cross the line that separates those who win majors and those who just talk about it.
Unfortunately on the day when McIlroy's eloquence had to be concentrated on each individual shot for the first time in four days he became tongue-tied. He stuttered to a first-hole bogey and within an hour his four-shot lead had evaporated.
The downturn was relentless and by the back nine it was not so easy to remember that so recently he had played as though the place was his home.
There was additional pathos in the fact that the man who first threatened to sweep him away was Woods, the man he had threatened to emulate as a 21-year-old bedazzling golf with an iconic majors win.
In 1997 Tiger led Constantino Rocca by nine shots when he came to play his fourth round. Woods grew invincible at that point of strength. McIlroy melted. His march was halted yesterday by the first evidence that amid the precocious brilliance much frailty still lurked — and the astonishing pace of the Tiger's recovery, a blitzkrieg of a 31 on the front nine and then a move into Amen Corner which revived memories of all the old command.
For a few holes McIlroy refused to buckle. Rather he would attempt to scramble to the finish line, an ambition which suddenly seemed less fanciful when Woods, quite unaccountably, three-putted on the the 12th. However, there were other more seasoned golfers ready to put McIlroy back into the margins of major-league golf where we will have to work to mend a broken spirit.
For a little while the Tiger had seemed unbeatable again; he had a momentum against which McIlroy must surely founder. But this, of course, is a complicated story, about the promise of youth and the difficult job some men face when the best of it is gone.
For Woods now every stride seemed to be between heaven and hell, and when he lapsed again on the 13th there was a sense that another moment of resurrection had perhaps come and gone. As it happened, the Tiger had one last brilliant shot — a stupendous second at the par-five 15, which set up an easy eagle, the lead and a momentum which might just have ended the days of pain and desperate reappraisal.
The Tiger however had merely given the strongest suggestion yet that he would indeed return to the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's unique mark of 18 major titles. He had made a point of great optimism but confirmation would not be quite delivered this day. He had come a long, long way but not quite far enough.
Did it mean that McIlroy again faced only a short journey to a crowning moment in the sun? He could never think that again, not in Augusta at least.
How the dream became a nightmare
It was always going to be a round that Rory McIlroy would remember but even he couldn’t have believed just how dramatic it would become. Peter Hutcheon guides us through 18 incredible holes for the Holywood man at the Augusta National.
Hole 1 (445 yards par 4): Hammered his drive right down the middle but went over the back of the green with his approach. Missed par putt from three feet. -11
Hole 2 (575 yards par 5): In the bunker off the tee then hit the lip with his escape. Found greenside bunker with third but made a good up and down across the green. -11
Hole 3 (350 yards par 4): Finds middle of the fairway and a great approach right of the pin rolls down to five feet but he misses the tough birdie putt. -11
Hole 4 (240 yards par 3): Long iron lands just over the bunker and comes to rest at the back of the green. Birdie attempt doesn't threaten hole but he safely two-putts for par.|-11
Hole 5 (455 yards par 4): Failed to make the most of another good drive when he missed the green from 175 yards and although he played a great chip to four feet, his par putt slipped past. -10
Hole 6 (180 yards par 3): Disappointing tee-shot only just made the green. Birdie putt shaved the hole. -10
Hole 7 (450 yards par 4): Much-needed birdie to retake the lead. Great drive with approach to front of green and rolled in an uphill putt from 15 feet. -11
Hole 8 (570 yards par 5): An overly-aggressive three-wood put him over the back of the green in two, then he duffed his chip and missed a long birdie putt. -11
Hole 9 (460 yards par 4): A missed opportunity after a perfect drive as his birdie putt from 15 feet below the hole slips by the edge. -11
Hole 10 (495 yards par 4): Disaster strikes as his ball hits a tree off the tee and ricochets almost out of bounds. Deep in the trees after three and it takes him another to find the green where he misses a double-bogey putt. -8
Hole 11 (505 yards par 4): Real venom in the drive and a gutsy approach to ten feet over Rae's Creek but, incredibly, he three-putts to drop yet another shot. -7
Hole 12 (155 yards par 3): He FOUR-putts after finding the middle of the green and is almost in tears as he walks from the putting surface. Six shots gone in three holes. -5
Hole 13: (510 yards par 5): It gets worse as his drive goes hard left into the creek. Makes the green in three and safely makes his two-putt for par. -5
Hole 14 (440 yards par 4): Regains his composure with a solid drive and sensible approach to the heart of the green. Two putts for par. -5
Hole 15 (530 yards par 5): The misery continues as his drive finds more trouble and he can't go for the green in two. Misses a par putt from ten feet to drop another shot. -4
Hole 16 (170 yards par 3): Gave himself a chance of a birdie with a solid tee-shot but when it's not your day, it's not your day. Rolled in the par putt. -4
Hole 17 (440 yards par 4): Drive straight down the middle and hit the green in regulation. Rolled his |birdie putt up to the cup and made his par. -4
Hole 18: (465 yards par 4): The first stroke of good fortune of McIlroy's round when his approach hit playing partner Cabrera's on the green. Yet another birdie putt goes begging. -4