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AUGUSTA, GA. The final moment for Rory McIlroy at the 86th Masters was simply euphoric. Facing a greenside bunker shot at the final hole, the Ulsterman brilliantly used the putting green contour to his advantage and watched as his ball curled left off the slope and ultimately disappeared into the cup for a final round 64 and a runner-up finish -- a twofold accomplishment. His lowest round and best finish in the lone major that has eluded him, thus far.
As the ball plummeted into the hole McIlroy jumped in the air and the surrounding gallery let loose with a resounding roar of -- "Rory, Rory, Rory!"
Solving the enigma of Augusta National has been on McIlroy's agenda since the 2011 event. With one round to play that dream seemed likely. He led by four and even after a one-over-par front nine was still in the lead when he stepped onto the 10th tee, He promptly hooked his tee shot and ultimately finished the hole with a triple-bogey. The free fall continued with a four-putt double-bogey at the par-3 12th. The end result was staggering -- tying the worst final round score by a 3rd round leader with a score of 80.
McIlroy did not let that moment define him. Just two months later he won his first major -- the U.S. Open -- by 8 shots. He added a PGA Championship in 2012 and two came in 2014 with wins at The Open and his second PGA Championship. At that point it appeared the 25-year-old was a clear guide path comparable to what was put into motion by Tiger Woods.
But after earning four major titles the spigot went dry -- bone dry.
In return visits to Augusta, McIlroy has had six top ten placements since 2014. At the 86th edition McIlroy found himself ten shots behind third round leader Scottie Scheffler.
At that point -- McIlroy put into motion his finest moment to date at Augusta.
His 64 -- becoming the 8th player in Masters history to do so in a final round -- was clean on the scorecard with no blemishes. The only player with a bogey-free round in the tournament.
McIlroy will need to wait for the '23 Masters to see if he can finally capture the green jacket. If able to do so, Rory would become the 6th member of the most elite grouping in golf -- players who have won the career Grand Slam. That list includes legendary names such as Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Without question -- a who's who in golf.
Since entering the world golf stage in 2009 the considerable talents of McIlroy have been front and center. But after gaining his fourth major in 2014 -- the feeling of being an underachiever has resonated in certain quarters. McIlroy is aware of the whispers but he has pushed aside those comments and his final round at this year's Masters once again shines considerable light on the prodigious skills he possesses .
But one can only wonder if capturing the Masters will be an obsessive pursuit. A distracting question comparable to fiction's epic tale of Captain Ahab seeking the elusive Moby Dick.
At 32 years of age, McIlroy is in his golf prime and the attainment of the Masters title, as well as other major events, is clearly possible.
The future is never certain no matter what talents are present for any players -- even McIlroy.
Rory has been clear on what motivates him -- playing in and winning golf's biggest events. It's not the money -- he plays for titles and a starring role in golf history.
The Masters has never had an Irishman win the coveted green jacket. Rory saw the impact a victory can mean for those becoming the first of their countrymen to do so when Adam Scott became the first Aussie in 2013 and Hideki Matsuyama became the first from Japan in 2021.
Watching Rory in full stride when things are moving along smoothly as they did in Sunday's final round at Augusta can be intoxicating. McIlroy led the event in driving distance and was among the leaders in greens in regulation. The perplexing element of his game is a putting stroke that can disappoint at crucial moments.
What does the future hold for McIlroy?
The tea leaves are never certain for anyone who plays world professional golf. His endearing smile and pleasant personality have made him a fan favorite globally.
Finishing in the runner-up position leaves him nearer to what would be his ultimate victory. A year away from the 87th edition of the Masters provides plenty of time to ponder, however, no one knows better than McIlroy that the ending chapter of his golf book story must happen at Augusta.
Ripples were put forward in the final round Sunday by McIlroy. In 2023, he hopes to create his own tsunami that will carry him to a career defining moment in 2023 - a green jacket.