They say a Green Jacket costs around $250, though no one who knows will confirm that. Money talks in Augusta, same as anywhere, but Augusta does not like to talk money. Certainly they are made in Cincinnati by the Hamilton Tailoring Co, from tropical wool, pantone 342, three buttons, double‑breasted, with the owner’s name stitched on the inside. And there is nothing, certainly not in the game of golf, that Rory McIlroy wants more. This was McIlroy’s fourth run at finishing the career grand slam and the most painful to watch of the lot because it was his best chance yet.
McIlroy was right where he wanted to be on Sunday, in the final group, and, though he was three shots off Patrick Reed at the start, that at least meant he could freewheel as he did not have a lead to hang on to. “I’ve been waiting for this chance,” he said on Saturday night, and a long time, too. This was his first time in the final pair since 2011, when he blew up on the 10th. “That was a huge turning point in my career. It was the day that I realised I wasn’t ready to win major championships and I needed to reflect on that and realise what I needed to do differently.”
That round haunted McIlroy. And, if there is a lesson there for him to use this time, it is that he has to make sure this one does not do so, too. They say the Masters starts on the back nine on Sunday but McIlroy was so flat that this one was all over by then. Jordan Spieth was so far back that even his final-round 64 did not really worry Reed. “When he birdied the 12th and 13th, I knew I had those holes coming up,” Reed said of Spieth, “and as long as I could keep it at least tied with him, he would run out of holes and I would have more birdie opportunities coming in.”
So Reed felt he always had Spieth covered. It was the same with Rickie Fowler when he made a birdie on the 18th to go to 14 under. Reed knew all he had to do was get through the last two holes in even par. Which is not to say it was easy. He still had to get up and down on the 17th and then face that wicked downhill putt on the 18th green. “But I kept reminding myself, and my caddie kept reminding me: ‘Just go do you. Go play golf.’ And I was able to get through it mentally.” Reed found a way to cope.
McIlroy did not. It was telling that he did not even figure in Reed’s conversation about what was going through his mind as he came round the back nine. Their business was already settled. It had been a scrap on the early holes. Both were nervous on the 1st, where Reed hit his opening tee-shot into a tree, and McIlroy pushed his wide right into the pine straw. They both ended up in the front left bunker by the green. McIlroy made much the better recovery and Reed dropped a shot. And when McIlroy uncorked a pinpoint approach on the 2nd, he looked the likely winner.
Then McIlroy missed his eagle putt. Which is the first of a few what-ifs he will be left with. But still he made his birdie, which meant the gap between them was down to one and the pressure was all on Reed, just as McIlroy predicted it would be on Saturday night. But at the 3rd everything shifted when McIlroy missed a 10ft putt for par and Reed made one for birdie from half as far again. McIlroy made another birdie on the 4th but gave it away again when he missed a 5ft putt for par on the 5th. That was the end of it.
“Every time I took a step forward I took a step back on the next hole,” McIlroy said. He added that he was going to “sit down and reflect over the next few days” to try to figure out what had gone wrong, “whether it be mindset or, I don’t know, if I just didn’t quite have it today”.
But Reed had a pretty clear idea of what happened. The pressure got to him. “That’s the biggest thing is going into a Sunday, especially for me trying to win my first; and for him, trying to win the career grand slam. It’s who is going to handle the pressure and who is going to have more pressure on them.”
Reed believes that the reason McIlroy’s golf was so much worse than it had been on Saturday, when he shot 65, was because he was that much closer to winning that Green Jacket and finishing the grand slam. Hell, McIlroy could not even bring himself to say the phrase on Saturday night. “We’ll obviously still be feeling it,” he said when he was asked about the pressure, “It’s the last round of a major championship, and we’re both going for – Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for” – there was a beat here while he held the words in his throat – “something else.”
McIlroy did not sound like a man who was all that comfortable with the position he was in, even though he has clearly learned to feel comfortable with the course. He has finished in the top 10 at the Masters five years in a row. So he has the game to win here. But then, so did a lot of good golfers who never did. Men such as Ernie Els. After this, for sure, the young US golfers McIlroy is competing against will not be intimidated the next time they play him on a Sunday here.