A year after missing the cut at the Masters, Rory McIlroy knew he was in danger of another early exit after double-bogeying the 11th hole at Augusta National on Friday.
His mindset as he strode to the tee at the famous par-three 12th was hardly helped watching Jordan Spieth in the group ahead put two balls into the Rae’s Creek tributary guarding the green.
A capricious wind whipping across Amen Corner added an extra element of risk and McIlroy had only one thought as his parents in the gallery looked on anxiously.
“I just needed to hit the green … needed to make par on 12,” he said. “That’s what I did, and that was a nice reset, then I played the next few holes really well after that.”
McIlroy picked up two late birdies for a second round one-over-par 73 that for a while looked like being within striking distance of the halfway lead, though he ultimately ended the day 10 strokes behind runaway leader Scottie Scheffler.
“I’m in a decent position,” said McIlroy, who was indeed at the time he spoke.
“I’d like to be a couple of shots better at least, but I’m still right there.”
Not that it was all smooth sailing coming home. A poor tee shot at the par-four 18th left McIlroy’s path to the green blocked by a few small trees and a famous towering oak that has been standing sentinel for the best part of a century.
“Once I get past this tree I’m fine,” he said to caddie Harry Diamond, referring to a little sapling that stood in the way as he walked up the hill to plot his path over the roughly 50-foot (15 metre) high oak.
Eventually choosing an eight-iron, he hit a big raking hook over the tree and into a greenside bunker, from where he made a deft up-and-down par.
“I hooked that eight-iron 60 yards,” McIlroy said.
“If it had finished in the crowd on the right it would have been a good result.”
The Northern Irishman will have to do everything right over the weekend to win the one major he needs to complete the career grand slam, but it sure beats heading home early.
“You go out tomorrow and play a decent front nine, and all of a sudden you’re right in the thick of things,” he said.