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Masters 2017: McIlroy is a top ten hit but knows he must raise his game

Nearly man: Rory McIlroy promises to return to Augusta next year to try and win his career Grand Slam
Nearly man: Rory McIlroy promises to return to Augusta next year to try and win his career Grand Slam

By Phil Casey

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."

He’s done it: Sergio Garcia at moment of Augusta victory
He’s done it: Sergio Garcia at moment of Augusta victory
Rory McIlroy suffered a frustrating third round in the Masters (AP)
Tough one: Danny Willet took a quad bogey on the first hole. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
Europe's Andy Sullivan made a poor start to his third round in the Masters
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland lines up a putt on the second hole during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Danny Willett of England reacts on the first hole during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Danny Willett of England talks with caddie Jonathan Smart before making a triple bogey on the first hole during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Rickie Fowler of the United States reacts on the 13th green during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Jason Day of Australia plays a shot out of a bunker on the 13th hole during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Martin Kaymer of Germany reacts on the 18th green during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07: Jordan Spieth of the United States plays his second shot on the 17th hole during the second round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a greenside bunker on the second hole during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 06: Charley Hoffman of the United States recats to his birdie on the 15th green during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 06: Russell Knox of Scotland plays a shot on the second hole during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Lee Westwood, of England, hits from a bunker on the 12th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 06: Fred Couples of the United States looks on from the 18th green during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Charley Hoffman hits a shot on the 17th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Shane Lowry of Ireland, watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, reacts to a missed putt on the 14th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland putts on the first green during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Jon Rahm of Spain stand on the first green during the first round of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland skips his ball across the pond on the 16th hole during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 5, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy reacts to his birdie putt attempt on the sixth green during a practice round at the Masters golf tournament, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: Bernhard Langer of Germany crosses the Nelson bridge with caddie Terry Holt during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: Rod Pampling of the United States plays a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: Daniel Summerhays of the United States and his caddie Nickolas Jones walk during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Francesco Molinari of Italy and his caddie walk over the Hogan Bridge during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Jason Day of Australia,Yuta Ikeda of Japan and Sandy Lyle of Scotland on the 16th hole during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Danny Willett of England looks on during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Lee Warne, caddie for Alex Noren (not pictured), is seen during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Thomas Pieters of Belgium pulls his putter from his bag during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 03: Bernhard Langer of Germany putts as his caddie looks on during a practice round prior to the start of the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 3, 2017 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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."

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