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Rory McIlroy storms home to Masters top five but Friday morning cost him chance of victory

Had this year's Masters been played across the latter 54 holes rather than 72, we'd have been crowning - or perhaps dressing - a different champion at Augusta National this year.

When you collate the scores from rounds two to four at the final Major of the year, then one name stands alone at the top of the standings, and it wasn't Dustin Johnson's.

With scores of 66 on Friday, 67 on Saturday and a 69 yesterday, Rory McIlroy would have been donning the Green Jacket, the Grand Slam would have finally been achieved and a six-year wait for a fifth Major title would have finally come to its long-awaited end.

But then, as the saying goes: if ifs and buts were drives and putts then anyone could be a professional golfer.

Tournaments are played across four rounds and McIlroy had to settle for a tie for fifth alongside South Africa's Dylan Frittelli at 11-under for the week after a dismal three-over-par 75 in his opening round. By the end he was a remarkable nine shots adrift of Johnson and was always too far back to make a credible title run yesterday.

It's not all doom and gloom though. After all, it's McIlroy's best finish in a Major since the 2018 Open at Carnoustie and his best result in any event since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, both of which demonstrate significant progress.

He blitzed the rest of the field in shots gained tee to green from Friday to Sunday, and his putting stats were above average compared to his rivals too.

But there'll always be that if. What if, instead of playing the final nine holes of his delayed opening round on Friday morning in three-over-par, he'd come out and attacked the course instead? How would it have changed the rest of the week?

It's something McIlroy himself has already considered.

"I'll look back on this week and rue what happened - maybe not on Thursday because I felt I played okay, but that Friday morning, coming back and finishing that first round," admitted the World No.5.

"But after that I played well. I hung in there. Had to shoot a good score to be here for the weekend and then played a really solid weekend."

A fleeting moment occurred yesterday when McIlroy birdied the eighth at the same time Johnson dropped back-to-back shots on four and five, but it never amounted to anything.

"I wasn't really thinking about winning the tournament," added McIlroy.

"When I got to 11-under after the eighth hole, I saw DJ had gone to 15 (under), so I thought maybe I had a chance. But then the wind got up and it's hard to make birdies on that back nine.

"But, yeah, pleased with my performance, especially over the last three rounds."

The narrative post-tournament will be geared towards how much the players can take towards a so-called 'normal Masters' in April. After all, the next Major is back at Augusta in five months' time, and the hope is it won't be behind closed doors, coronavirus permitting.

While the course will likely play considerably tougher - it will not be as soft, the pins will be tucked away a lot more and Johnson's winning score of 20-under will likely not be repeated - McIlroy does acknowledge there are mental aspects of how he approached this week that he will take forward as he bids to complete the Grand Slam for a seventh time in 2021.

"I think it was easier (this year). At home, after I play, my attention is immediately turned to something else, I can sit there and play with my daughter and completely take my mind off it, which is nice," he added.

"I'm a little more relaxed and I like this vibe, which is better. Hopefully we get back to a normal Masters in a few months' time, but I'm going to try and adopt this attitude and this approach."

Belfast Telegraph