Masters 2023: There’s still time but winning a green jacket might be too big for Rory McIlroy

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Winning the Masters might be too big for Rory McIlroy. That’s a difficult sentence to write. And it’s not a prognostication. He’ll turn 34 next month, young enough to still have a decade or more, health permitting, to complete the career Grand Slam, but old enough to feel some pangs of desperation—understandably so.

On a calm and humid Good Friday, the kind of day the Northern Irishman relishes, McIlroy was all kinds of bad and saw his 15th start in the Masters end abruptly. Seven bogeys marred a scorecard that showed 77 total strokes, tied for his third-worst score in 54 rounds at Augusta National Golf Club. At five-over 149, he was well outside the top-50 and ties that make the projected cut, a result considerably more stunning than his poor outing four weeks prior at the Players Championship.

McIlroy, you see, had worked feverishly since that missed cut at TPC Sawgrass, dialing in a new driver sahft and putter, and playing some 81 holes at Augusta before tournament week. He looked sharp two weeks ago in finishing third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He felt calm and confident. And he had a favorable weather forecast ahead of him; he had to think a soggy weekend played into his hands after having won all four of his majors on rain-softened layouts.

But he never appeared comfortable during his brief appearance, the second time in three years he has missed the cut while sandwiching a runner-up finish in between. Scoring was a more formidable task for the field of 86 players in the second round, even amid light breezes, but leader Brooks Koepka shot 67 and U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett carded his second-straight 68, so there was a number out there to be had for a player with McIlroy’s gifts. He drove it well but failed to take advantage, hitting only nine greens in regulation, and his new putter offered little assistance, accounting for 32 strokes. As the round progressed, he grew sullen and lethargic. Downtrodden.