It was the first time he ever looked truly joyous on a Sunday in 14 years at the place. That’s an odd thing to say about a record that would be interpreted as successful for many – 10 top 25s in those 14 starts, and six top 10s. But Sundays at Augusta for Rory McIlroy are usually miserable or moping, caroming between states of ennui and distress depending on the year.
They only give out a green jacket for the lowest 72-hole score, and that belonged to world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler after a dominating weekend. But as far as finishes go, a hole-out on the 18th provoking your first real burst of joy here, and certainly your happiest moment ever in this tournament, is the next best thing to winning.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 10, 2022
After signing his card, Rory told CBS, “That’s as happy as I’ve ever been on a golf course.” That’s not a statement you expect to hear from Rory about a day at Augusta in which he also did not win. But these are the non-winning moments a place like this, anchored by history and familiarity, can produce. And it felt like one this place and tournament owed him.
“Wikipedia Top 10” is a recent term for this digital age to describe a finish that will look respectable on the majors results grid at the bottom of your Wikipedia page but doesn’t tell the full story of your competitiveness or actual relevance on a given Sunday. It’s a pejorative, and not always fair despite its now frequent usage. Rory’s been the target of it frequently since 2014, with no pictures or context accompanying some of those result listings that might mislead in the little box on Wikipedia.
This was no Wikipedia Top 10. There was more than just the climax at the 18th green. It was the round of the day and the round of the week. It was the only loop without a bogey in four days of a windy and temperamental Masters. It started with a birdie at the difficult opening hole, the first of five in his opening 10 holes that at least had you start thinking about the fantasy of a chasedown. At the seventh hole, McIlroy picked up one of those bonus birdies critical to that kind of miracle, pouring in a 30-foot putt across and down the green. It’s that green that sits almost directly in the center of the property, which is routed in a way that ensures you’re aware of what’s happening both near and far. The seventh green sort of lords over the second green down below, and as McIlroy bombed in that putt, Scheffler scuffled to a disappointing par at the par-5 second. McIlroy had certainly made his presence felt at that intersection on the course, but on the leaderboard, Cam Smith, who pulled within just a shot there, was the more pressing concern for Scheffler.
Rory did his best to push Scheffler with his 64, adding more roars for the leader to contemplate with a chip-in at 10, an eagle at 13, and that finisher from the bunker. Scheffler is the one who went out and did it, though, breezing past that confrontation of roars at the second green and keeping Rory at arm’s length. Perhaps that cushion aided Rory’s charge, the stress of real contention mitigated by Scheffler’s dominance.
Rory spent all week trying to play it conservative and hang on, which is a long ways away from the aggressive young Rory, who strutted to major leads early and charged across the finish line. Scheffler is the one doing that to him now and with Scheffler way out in front, Rory got more aggressive on Sunday. So we’re still operating in a different McIlroy era at the majors. It’s context for this 64, but it’s far from a “Wikipedia Top 10.”
For McIlroy though, there has to be power in walking away from this place happy, and with a signature moment like the one on 18. “It makes me excited to get back here next year,” he said after his round.
Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Those signature moments, up until now, had been mostly negative memories—the fade against Patrick Reed or the lasting image of young Rory looking lost and panic-stricken among the cabins right of the 10th hole. Every prior Sunday has finished with some level of anguish, disappointment, or apathy. Given that history, maybe that’s why he didn’t know what to do with his hands as he celebrated in the bunker at the 18th. He finally had a moment when all the stress that seems to swallow him up in Augusta wholly disappeared, for at least that moment.
It’s Rory’s best ever finish at the Masters, but he’s no closer to the career slam than he was a week or eight years ago. The positivity of this walk-off does not mean a jacket is imminent. But it at least gives him a happy historical moment. And given the last decade here, that’s something.
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