Masters 2017: McIlroy is a top ten hit but knows he must raise his game
Rory McIlroy admitted he had simply not played well enough after his third attempt to complete the career grand slam failed to spark into life at Augusta National.
McIlroy needs victory in the Masters to become only the sixth player to have won all four major titles, but never fully recovered from a slow start in the opening round.
The 27-year-old battled back from being three over par after eight holes to card an opening 72, but subsequent scores of 73 and 71 meant a closing 69 left the four-time major winner well off the pace on three under par.
"It wasn't quite as adventurous as previous Masters have been for me," McIlroy said as Sergio Garcia edged out Justin Rose in the fight for the green jacket at the first play-off hole.
"I didn't get too high with some really low nine-hole scores, but I didn't shoot any nine-hole scores that were in the 40s. It was quite a consistent, steady Masters for me.
"It wasn't quite good enough. I felt like I had an opportunity yesterday to shoot something in the mid to high 60s which would have got me closer to the lead today and I didn't quite do that.
"I gave a decent account of myself and will come back next year and try again."
McIlroy felt he still had a chance of claiming a Masters victory if he could match, or better, his lowest score in the tournament, a 65 in the first round having seemingly set him on course for victory in 2011.
However, after making a birdie on the par-five second, the Ulsterman three-putted the fourth from 95 feet and had to scramble to save par on the next two holes.
Birdies on the eighth, 13th and 16th ensured McIlroy broke 70 for the first time this week and he refused to blame a limited schedule this year - caused by a rib injury - for his performance.
"I feel the time off was more of a blessing," he added.
"I got to work on some stuff in my short game.
"I felt as comfortable on the greens here as I ever had, even though I had a couple of three-putts.But I holed some good ones. I had a couple of pars when I needed to. I didn't convert the chances I should have yesterday but every time I come back here I'm more and more comfortable."
Charl Schwartzel finished hot on the heels of the two men wrestling for the title, on six under. Belgium's Thomas Pieters had good reason to be reasonably content with his first outing at Augusta. Pieters finished on five under par alongside American Matt Kuchar after a four under par final round.
He said: "It's very nice to hopefully finish top five.
"I'm a bit disappointed with the way I finished because I could've put more pressure on the leaders."
On what he will take away after his debut performance, he said: "The course plays a lot different on a Sunday than a Thursday.
"I had some lightning quick putts and I'll know for next time not to put the ball in those places." Kuchar produced one of the stories of the final day when he fired in a hole-in-one on the 16th.
"I love being here," he said.
It brings back some great memories from amateur days and days when I was in contention.
On his hole-in-one, the 19th in Masters history, he said: "To get that amazing roar on 16, my kids will have heard that in day care a couple of miles down the road."
And on signing and giving his ball to a young fan, he added: "One of the cool parts of our job is to bring a smile to kids' faces. For me that golf ball is not a keepsake but it could brighten up his day and maybe we'll see him back here playing in a couple of years."
Paul Casey shot an impressive 68 in his final round to finish on four under par.
The American challenge, which looked so healthy at the start of the day, faded badly over the course of the final round. Rickie Fowler, who was fancied by many to claim a first major here, bogeyed 16, 17 and 18 to fall back to one under and tied for 11th. Jordan Spieth registered his worst display at a Masters. To be fair, though, second, first and second was a pretty tough bar to meet. He did at least finish under par with a birdie at the last. And Australia's Curtis Luck will turn professional today with a new appreciation for the difficulties of Augusta National after missing out on amateur honours in the Masters. Luck carded a final round of 72 on Sunday to finish nine over par, three behind Stewart Hagestad, a 25-year-old financial analyst who won the 2016 US Mid-Amateur championship.
"I'm excited to try and make some money and I'm excited too- I guess - to make my way through the pro ranks, or at least give it a good crack," said Luck, 20, who qualified for the year's first major by winning both the US Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2016.
"I thought I was ready five months ago. I had entered tour school for last year in Japan and Europe. Then I won the US Amateur and Asian Amateur, which put a halt on that concept. Now having all this experience playing these professional events over the last three months in particular, I feel I'm ready to compete at this level."