It can only get better for Rory McIlroy. Well, hopefully.
After shooting a solid 71 on Thursday, McIlroy couldn't buy a break on Friday, shooting a dreadful 77 and just making the cut at four over for the tournament. He was often poor off the tee, nearly hit Adam Scott at No. 5 with his tee shot on No. 4 and ended up in Augusta's beautiful shrubs on No. 13.
It evoked memories of his epic Sunday collapse of 2011—when he shot an 80 with a green jacket in his grasp—though it was never quite that bad.
After, McIlroy seemed both exasperated with his performance and relieved that he'll golf another day, as he told Philip Reid of The Irish Times:
I didn’t know what that putt on the last was, to make the cut. But when I got into the scoring area and saw that I was in 46th place, it was a bit of a sigh of relief that I’m here for the weekend.
I’m just not getting anything out of my game at the moment. I’m driving the ball as well as I ever have. And that should be giving me opportunities to score a bit better. But I just haven’t quite been able to get on a run...I’m trying to shoot two really low rounds and see where that puts me at the end of the week.
McIlroy will be the first player off the tee on Saturday, opening play at 10:15 a.m. ET, according to ESPN.
Recent trends would suggest McIlroy probably won't improve much on Saturday. While he's shot worse in Round 2 than he did in Round 1 in seven of eight tournaments, he's also only shot better in Round 3 than in Round 2 three times.
And Augusta National has never been particularly forgiving to McIlroy.
On the other hand, there really isn't any pressure on him now. He's 11 strokes behind leader Bubba Watson—who has already won The Masters, mind you—so it's nearly inconceivable he could win. At this point, finishing strong is the goal.
And while he was certainly not at his best on Friday, he was also really unlucky at points. On No. 13, he hit a sprinkler just off the green that shot his ball off the course, leading to this rather picturesque scene:
His wayward tee shot on No. 4 was caused by a shift in the wind, as he described to Reid:
It was into the wind, and it was a perfect little sort of a cut 5-wood. The wind laid down a little bit before I was about to hit it, so I backed off and then I felt it again. So I went into it and hit the shot that I wanted to. It was all over the pin, it was just 30 yards too long. I had a big wind switch there.
Even on 18, his approach shot seemed to hit at just the right spot on the green but died, rather than rolling down the bank as he expected. He still was able to two-putt to save par and survive the cut, but it was the perfect "Man, it just isn't his day" moment to close Friday's action.
Of course, Matt Dickinson of The Times isn't so quick to chalk McIlroy's afternoon up to bad luck:
McIlroy survives but an overnight inquest ahead. Blustery wind can't explain some of those wayward approaches— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) April 11, 2014
It's a fair point, but it's also hard to imagine McIlroy being as bad on Saturday, especially after he was really solid on Thursday. McIlroy doesn't appear to have a sub-70 score in him at the moment, but he's also the sort of player who can shoot a 65 without anyone blinking an eye in disbelief.
When he's good, he's as good as anyone in golf. It just doesn't appear he brought that game with him to Augusta National this time around.