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Questions as Rory McIlroy's Masters ghosts return to haunt him

By Robert Jones

Rory McIlroy's wait to wear the famous green jacket goes on. The Holywood man's hopes of completing the career Grand Slam melted in the Augusta sun as his Masters dream went up in smoke.

While defending champion Jordan Spieth suffered a heartbreaking collapse, allowing England's Danny Willett to celebrate the biggest win of his career, McIlroy failed to take advantage of the better weather conditions and finished on one over par after a final round of 71.

The World No.3 went into his final round five shots behind Spieth but he failed to make a fast start and his challenge faded.

Now the inquests will begin again into how and why he came up short at a Masters again.

Both he and his legion of fans worldwide had expected so much more after the meticulous preparation of a stepped-up, tailored fitness regime and skipping the distraction of the pre-tournament par-three competition in order to be fully focused on the task at hand.

Alas, all his ghosts of Masters past returned to haunt him. Whatever the reason or reasons, and his doubters will put forward a raft, Augusta has not been a happy hunting ground for the player who has pinged off all the other majors - two US PGAs, the US Open and The Open - yet cannot nail this one.

But is it a different Rory in pursuit of the final piece in the jigsaw, from the hungry young player who mentally toughed out his potentially destructive 2011 Masters meltdown to bounce back and win his first Major at the US Open at Congressional six weeks later?

The desire is clearly still there but has the competitive edge been blunted by a more comfortable, incredibly wealth-laden lifestyle? And who would begrudge him the fruits of his lifelong labours? Have his younger, hungry rivals stolen a march on him at just 26?

Only he can provide the answer as the Majors season unfolds but the fact remains he is the only one of the world's top six yet to post a tournament win in 2016.

Here again, he struggled for momentum and consistency from the onset, particularly with his putting.

By dint of Spieth's late Saturday night wobble, Rory went into yesterday's final round still harbouring hopes of overturning history and the five-shot deficit against him.

Only two players have come back to win from such a position... Art Wall Jr came from five behind to win in 1959, while Nick Faldo was six behind Greg Norman in 1996 and won by five shots.

He had pledged to attack this course to have any chance of his first Masters victory to make him just the sixth player in history to win the Grand Slam. It was hot at Augusta, but Rory's putter was cold.

His birdie blitz on the back nine served only to underline the erratic nature of his game and add to the conundrum of why he cannot produce the kind of form he is clearly capable of on a more regular basis.

Those were signs of the Rory we all know back at his best. Too little too late, however, and such a shame.

A wayward drive led to a bogey on the first and McIlroy did well not to drop another shot on the second after finding sand off the tee and with his approach, eventually holing from eight feet for par.

Perhaps frustrated by that slow start, the four-time Major winner proceeded to drive to the green on the 350-yard third, but had to settle for a birdie after narrowly missing from 15 feet for an eagle.

The 26-year-old then dropped shots on the fourth and fifth before picking up shots on the seventh and eighth, although another eagle chance went begging from just eight feet on the latter.

And the final nail in the coffin came with further bogeys on the 10th and 11th - where he found the water - to leave McIlroy three over par, eight shots adrift of Spieth. The former Sullivan Upper student cut a frustrated figure but he regained his composure in spectacular style and carded birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th holes.

McIlroy was left to reflect on poor shots and missed opportunities, saying: "It's been a tough weekend.

"Yesterday I just didn't get anything going and probably went out there a little bit too tentatively.

"And today again, I should have been aggressive but I was hanging on to my shots a little bit. The wait continues."

All the agony belonged to 22-year-old Spieth who failed to follow Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in winning back-to-back titles at Augusta National and all the glory belonged to Willett, who received a fantastic ovation from the Augusta crowd on his walk to the 18th green.

The champion finished on five under par in only his second Masters appearance and he will be bringing the green jacket back to Sheffield.

"There's no better feeling to hear everyone cheering your name," said the world number 12 who finished three shots ahead of Spieth.

"My wife was born on this day 28 years ago, my little boy was due today.

"I honestly can't tell you (what was going through his head on the 18th). Just happiness, exhilaration. There's no better feeling. Luckily enough I was able to keep my head on and keep composed."

A heartbroken Spieth, was who tied second with Lee Westwood on two under, said: "It's tough, very tough. I was guilty of a lack of discipline at times. I had a tough 30 minutes which I hope I will never experience again."

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