AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – No sooner had Rory McIlroy moved into contention than he took himself out.
The world's No. 2 player dropped five shots in five holes Saturday afternoon, and had to par his last two holes just to break 80. At 5-over for the tournament, he trails the leaders by double digits.
“It's disappointing, especially after such a good start,'' McIlroy said. “I was only a few off the lead going into the seventh hole today, and then all of a sudden I play through (Nos.) 7 through 11 in 5-over par. And basically, my chances in the tournament are gone. Basically, that's my chances in the tournament gone.''
His 79 was his second-highest score in 17 rounds at Augusta National. The only time he's fared worse was in 2011, when he blew the tournament lead on the back nine on his way to an 80.
The Northern Irishman was hoping the first major of 2013 would jumpstart a year that so far has been a disappointment. He played well to get in contention at the Texas Open last week, finishing second with a final round 66, and expected to be in contention here.
He was lurking after a 70 in the second round, and a birdie on No. 3 put him on the leaderboard. After making pars on the next three holes, he felt like he was in good position to track down Jason Day and the rest of the players in front of him. Even a bogey on No. 7 wasn't too disheartening.
But his round came apart on No. 11, the long par-4.
After missing right off the tee again, he hit a poor second shot that left him with a wedge into the green. But the wind took the ball and dropped it in the water short of the green. He steadied himself with three straight pars, and thought he was in good shape when his second shot on the par-5 15th hit the green.
McIlroy was so convinced the shot was good he made a move to start walking, only to see the ball begin dribbling backward. It rolled all the way into the water. He compounded the error by three-putting once he chipped on.
“The margins are very small on this course, and when you get on the wrong side of some of these slopes, you can't help but get a penalty,'' McIlroy said. “A couple of missed shots here and there, but, yeah, I felt like I was done in on 11 and 15. That's the way it goes.''
McIlroy conceded earlier in the week that the adjustment to his new clubs – which came as part of a huge endorsement deal with Nike – had taken some time. But he said his driving had improved greatly and he was gaining confidence with every round he played.
Even mighty Augusta National isn't as intimidating as it once was.
McIlroy had one of the more famous collapses in Masters history in 2011. Taking a 1-stroke lead onto the 10th tee, he pulled his tee shot into the trees left of the fairway, and the ball apparently ricocheted between two of the club's famous cabins. McIlroy had no choice but to punch it back out, but then yanked his approach shot left of the green, near a scoreboard, before banging a shot off a tree limb.
He finally chipped it onto the green – barely. Two putts left him with a 7, and that lead had become a 2-shot deficit. He three-putted for another bogey on No. 11, and tacked on a four-putt double-bogey on 12 to complete the meltdown.
But McIlroy has come a long way since then. He won his first major two months after the Masters debacle, at the U.S. Open, and added a second at last year's PGA Championship. He was No. 1 in the world for 32 weeks before ceding the spot to Tiger Woods three weeks ago.
“I feel like I played smart enough,'' McIlroy said. “I mean, I'm playing it the way I know the way you should play it. I'm not taking too much on. I'm not being too defensive. I feel like my strategy's right. It's just sometimes if your execution is just that little bit off, you pay a big price for it.''