AUGUSTA, Ga. – Anyone who has grown up with golf has envisioned having to make a putt to win a major championship. Oftentimes, those dreamers might face a 4-foot putt for golf immortality.
For Rory McIlroy, the 4-footer that he had on the second hole Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club would not have won the 82nd Masters, but it certainly would have gone a long way toward changing the complexion of the final round. It was a semi-match-play atmosphere between the Northern Irishman and his Ryder Cup protagonist, American Patrick Reed.
Making the 4-footer would have erased a three-shot deficit in two holes and put significant pressure on Reed. It also would have put a bounce in McIlroy’s step.
McIlroy had started the day hitting his tee shot so far right at No. 1 that he turned to his friend and caddie, Harry Diamond, for another ball so that he could hit a provisional. A signal from a marshal confirmed that the ball was findable.
As McIlroy trudged up the first fairway, he could only imagine what was awaiting him. Upon arriving at the ball, McIlroy found a lane through the pines and made an improbable par as Reed opened with bogey.
Thinking that he had just stolen a shot and the momentum, McIlroy hit a towering drive of 371 yards at the downhill par-5 second, leaving only an 8-iron from 196 yards, which he hit to 4 feet.
With Reed struggling for a second consecutive hole and McIlroy sitting 48 inches from an eagle and potential share of the lead, momentum appeared to have swung. The pressure rested squarely with Reed, 27, a five-time PGA Tour winner with no major-championship victories. McIlroy, 28, already a four-time major winner, seemingly had no pressure.
McIlroy conceded as much Saturday, after he shot 65 to surge into second place. “I feel like Patrick has got a three‑shot lead. I feel like all the pressure is on him.”
And it looked that way as McIlroy stood over that 4-footer.
But when his putt slid past on the right side, the chance to win his first Masters and complete the career Grand Slam would elude McIlroy, as well.
Trailing by one stroke on the third tee, McIlroy would never get closer. Reed made birdie at No. 3 to reassert a commanding position as McIlroy, from 130 yards, made bogey. With the two-shot swing, Reed again led by three.
It was so unlike McIlroy, but then, here at Augusta, it seemed somewhat typical.
What can you make of a four-time major champion who shoots 7-under 65 in the third round to get into contention, then struggles with all aspects of his game after the second hole on Sunday?
“It's hard to take any positives from it right now, but at least I put myself in the position,” McIlroy said after his 2-over 74 dropped him into a tie for fifth, six strokes behind Reed’s winning 15-under 273 (scores). “That's all I wanted to do. The last four years, I've had top‑10s, but I haven't been close enough to the lead. Today, I got myself there. I didn't quite do enough. But, you know, come back again next year and try.”
That might sound reassuring, but it has to add to the amount of scar tissue that McIlroy has accumulated from his experiences at Augusta National. In 2011, he strode to the first tee on Sunday holding a four-stroke lead while bidding for his first major championship. He collapsed with an 8-over 80 and a T-15 finish. Although McIlroy has posted five consecutive top-10 results at Augusta National, he has yet to break through here.
A 4-foot putt on the second hole could have swung the momentum and changed McIlroy’s script here. Sure, 16 holes would have remained to be played, but with a three-stroke deficit erased in the first two holes, the emotions would have been very different.
Now, with Reed wearing the green jacket, McIlroy must wonder what’s next. It’s not an enviable place for him.
Four feet. Incredible.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli