McIlroy's Masters misery returns

On a day when one of the most prominent players in the breakaway LIV Golf series led the field at the Masters by three shots, Rory McIlroy, the world number two and the PGA Tour's most active supporter, faced an early exit.

McIlroy shot a five over-par 77 with seven bogeys, 17 strokes behind pace-setter Brooks Koepka, and is facing his second missed Masters cut in three years in a season where many hoped he could finally win at Augusta and complete his career Grand Slam.

Play was stopped due to stormy weather before the second round was complete but at five-over for the tournament, in joint 61st position, the Northern Irishman is well adrift of the projected cut to the low 50 and level, set at two-over.

The 33-year-old has won four majors but it is now nine years since the last of those triumphs in the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

McIlroy has been the unofficial player's spokesman for the PGA Tour in its battle with the Saudi-backed LIV and took a prominent role in recent meetings that led to changes to the PGA Tour, with the introduction of 'enhanced events' boasting smaller fields and bigger purses.

After missing the cut at the Players Championship last month, however, McIlroy said his role in rallying players to the changes and defending the tour from the emergence of LIV had taken a toll on his time management ahead of tournaments.

"I'd love to get back to being a golfer again," he said, adding that he had "maybe sacrificed a little bit of time with some of this other stuff."

Whether his willingness to organize meetings and speak on behalf of the players had any lingering influence on his poor showing at Augusta is, however, uncertain and the Northern Irishman left the grounds during the storm break and did not speak to media.

There certainly did not appear to be much wrong with McIlroy's swing when he practiced on the range ahead of his round on Friday morning and his popularity among the Augusta patrons was evidenced by his warm reception on the first tee.

But, after a solid start on the opening hole, he walked to the second tee, oddly just as his ex-fiancé, former tennis champion Caroline Wozniacki, passed by, and from there his round fell apart.

McIlroy drove into the sand and then fired over the back of the green as he bogeyed the par-5 second and by the seventh hole he had made three more bogeys.

He found water with his approach on the 11th, leaving him looking distraught, and even the boost of birdies on the 13th and 15th was undone by bogeys on the 16th and 18th.

As he had shown earlier in the day on the range, McIlroy has one of the best-looking swings in the game and no one has doubted his talent and ability to handle courses as challenging as Augusta.

Last year, he finished second after a superb final round of 64, just one short of the Masters record, and he came into this year's tournament saying he had all the ingredients in place for success.

"I'm feeling as relaxed as I ever have coming in here. I feel like my game is in a pretty good place. I know the place just as about as well as anyone," McIlroy said Tuesday.

Ever since McIlroy's meltdown at Augusta in 2011, when the then 21-year-old went into the final round with a four-shot lead but ended it 10 strokes back, there have been people who have questioned his ability to deal with the mental side of the game.

McIlroy certainly understands the importance of the mind in golf and regularly consults with American sports psychologist Bob Rotella.

Perhaps it was significant that on the even of the tournament, McIlroy had referred to his "scar tissue" from Augusta and the importance of the mental game.

"I've always felt like I have the physical ability to win this tournament," he said. "But it's being in the right head space to let those physical abilities shine through."

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