Masters 2015: Rory McIlroy's best is not enough, but his time will come
When Rory McIlroy stood a bunker's distance from his playing partner on the practice range yesterday he saw a picture of the individual he wants to be.
Tiger Woods was the one in the sand, rehearsing for such hazards as lay ahead and there seemed to be a significance in that.
It was supposed to have been the week when the new genius shoved the fading one a little closer to the indignity of the gutter.
One of the most remorseless sources of conversation and schadenfreude around the place in the hours and minutes leading into Thursday was whether Woods would suffer the embarrassment of missing the cut for the first time in his 20 appearances.
Yet here he was, 110 places behind McIlroy in the list of the world's best and yet not letting him out of his sight.
The 25-year-old Ulsterman would eventually finish fourth on 12 under par - his best-ever performance at the Masters - while Tiger, at five under, will certainly be pleased to see his name high up the leaderboard again after so many problems both on and off the course.
Woods had slugged his way here with a visceral demonstration of what it means to be beaten down again and again and to come gasping back up towards the top.
He was into that bunker long before McIlroy, you felt, because he now intuits that there will be trouble - lots of it - to deal with and it will not be too far over the horizon.
The latest pretender to his crown, and the ultimate champion here, Jordan Spieth, had not even sat down to hold court in the press room on Saturday when Woods was back out on the practice range, looking to prepare for trouble.
The sun he had just toiled under was long off setting.
The question "How do you do it?" would have had more than a heap of significance had McIlroy quietly put it to Woods, as they set off around the course together yesterday, because it is this fighting quality which stands between the Ulsterman and the place he wants to occupy.
When the sun is high in McIlroy's mind and he is high rolling, there is no a player on earth to touch him.
Just watch him go, with power and precision of dizzying brilliance.
That was the McIlroy we had come to see and he was restored to view as he took the back nine in 31 on Friday afternoon - two strokes better than Spieth - and the first nine in 32 on Saturday. A 63 across 18 holes.
Spieth had not made that in any of his three rounds. Here was the McIlroy whose twirl of his driver after his dispatch at the first tee yesterday - his sure sign of satisfaction - telegraphed that he was happy with the way things had started.
It is the McIlroy demon which scrambles the picture.
Few of the best players have the capacity to unravel quite as spectacularly as he does. That was the McIlroy we saw on Friday, taking 40 strokes to clear his outward nine, eight worse than Spieth.
It is not the status of Woods that McIlroy craves.
He was being honest when he said before this tournament that in such a sense Woods represents something unattainable: "The face of the game to the wider public and I don't think I'll ever be that, just because of who I am, who he is, what he represents and the people he brought to the sport."
No: it is Woods' ability to win everywhere and anywhere - manifest in the career Slam which McIlroy went in search of this week - that the 25-year-old wants now.
Of Augusta, McIlroy recently said: "I'm trying to learn and get better at, that style of golf where you manage your way around.
"I think a little more imagination's the thing I need if I want to call myself a complete golfer." Such is the challenge now. At least he knows he now has the game for it.