April 13, 2016
Winning the Masters is becoming a mental challenge for Rory McIlroy because it's the only major he lacks for the career Grand Slam.
The biggest hurdle might be Saturday.
For the third time in the last five years, McIlroy went into the weekend within range of the lead, only to blow up. He was one shot behind in 2012 and shot 77. He was four shots behind Jason Dufner in 2013 and shot 79. The attention was even greater this year because McIlroy was one shot behind and playing in the final group with Jordan Spieth. He didn't make a birdie and shot 77.
''I've been in position before and I haven't got the job done when I needed to, and I don't think that's anything to do with my game, '' McIlroy said after closing with a 71 to tie for 10th. ''I'm trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen. I think that's the thing that's really holding me back.''
McIlroy said he played too tentatively, which is easy to do on the weekend at Augusta National, especially in gusts over 20 mph.
He went into the week with the attitude that Augusta owed him one, telling Irish state radio RTE that ''I have come here to get something that I should have had a long time ago.'' That was a reference to his four-shot lead in 2011, when he shot 80 in the final round.
McIlroy said his head - not anything about his game - was where he needed to improve when he picks up the Grand Slam chase next year.
''I was just very ... I'm not sure what the word is,'' he said. ''I don't know if it's weak or whatever it is. I was anxious and I was nervous, which you're going to be, and I just didn't handle it the best. Out of every tournament in the world that we play, this is the one where I feel a little different from the others, for obvious reasons. And I just need to learn how to control that better.''
The sooner the better.
That was McIlroy's second time at Augusta with an opportunity to get the career Grand Slam. The other five players who have won all four majors never waited more than three years once they had the third leg of the slam.
Gary Player won the U.S. Open in his third attempt with the Grand Slam on the line in 1965 at Bellerive. Jack Nicklaus, after collecting the other three majors, completed the slam on his third try at the 1966 British Open.
Maybe that bodes well for Phil Mickelson, who gets his third chance at the career slam in two months at Oakmont for the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, completed the career Grand Slam quickly. He won the British Open a month after getting the third leg at the U.S. Open. Ben Hogan also needed only one try to get the British Open for the fourth piece, though 1953 at Carnoustie was the only British Open he played.
Gene Sarazen technically completed the slam on his first try, too. Then again, the Masters was in its second year when Sarazen won in 1935, and it wasn't looked upon as a major back then. Plus, a career Grand Slam of professional majors was never mentioned.
It is now.