McIlroy among players humbled by Augusta

Rory McIlroy shot a third-round 77 at Augusta National.

Rory McIlroy shot a third-round 77 at Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Rory McIlroy had another weekend meltdown at the Masters. The only consolation? At least this time it wasn’t on a Sunday.

Beginning the third round only one shot off the lead, the 22-year-old Northern Irishman made two double bogeys on his opening nine en route to a 6-over 42. After a third-round 77, he will enter Sunday 10 shots back of leader Peter Hanson.

“It seems like every year I come here I throw a bad nine holes out there,” McIlroy said.

It was the second consecutive year in which the Ulsterman has squandered an opportunity to slip into the green jacket. In 2011, he led by four shots entering Sunday but self-immolated during a final-round 80. Take his back-nine 43 on Masters Sunday last year and his front-nine 42 Saturday and . . .

“That would have added up to an 85,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I don’t do anything like that tomorrow.”

The only reason this collapse wasn’t more shocking was that it occurred on a Saturday, not a Sunday.

But it stings all the same.

Only four days ago, the 76th Masters was being billed as a battle between the two most compelling players in the game, Tiger and Rory. Overly optimistic, perhaps, but consider that Woods had demonstrated his best form in 2 1/2 years by dominating the field two weeks ago at Bay Hill; and World No. 2 McIlroy, meanwhile, hadn’t finished outside the top 11 in a worldwide event since August and appeared poised to become golf’s next superpower.

Sure, the Tiger-Rory subplot still will play out over the final 18 holes Sunday at Augusta. But the only question now is: Who will finish better?

Rory is tied for 27th. Tiger is tied for 38th.

Not quite the Sunday duel we envisioned, huh?

McIlroy was the presumptive favorite to rise to the top of the leaderboard by nightfall Saturday, but his was far from the only storyline that failed to materialize.

Lee Westwood lost a feel for his full swing and shot a deflating 72. A seemingly revitalized Sergio Garcia, who was paired with McIlroy, tumbled to a 75. Miguel Angel Jimenez, the Most Interesting Man in Golf, turned in one worse. Friday’s co-leaders, Jason Dufner (75) and Fred Couples (75), remained in the hunt for about an hour.

By that time, however, McIlroy already had begun his free fall. He drove into the right trees on No. 1, leading to a double bogey, and he dropped more shots on Nos. 5, 7 (double) and 8 on his way to a 42. McIlroy didn’t make his first birdie until the par-3 12th. When both he and Garcia drained those putts, they laughed and hugged each other on the side of the green.

“It would have been better if it were our girlfriends,” Garcia said, “but that was the best we could get at the moment.”

Said McIlroy: “It was a nice moment in the round filled with not-too-good moments.”

After the round, McIlroy faced the cameras - much like he did after the embarrassing round last April - and answered questions. Then he walked with his father, Gerry, and mother, Rosie, past the clubhouse and into the parking lot, where they piled into a golf cart and were whisked away.

Just another humbling day at Augusta.

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