AUGUSTA, Ga. — Rory McIlroy sat on a bench at the 11th tee, head down, chewing on a sandwich that, at that moment, must have tasted like sawdust.
Considered one of the two favorites coming into the tournament, and in position to seize control on Saturday, McIlroy turned in a wretched 5-over 77 that went wrong from the very first double-bogeyed on No. 1.
At least this year he got the horrors out of the way on Saturday. Alongside Sergio Garcia, his inspiration as a kid, he played the front nine in an avert-your-eyes 42, a sequence that featured two double-bogeys and two bogeys. The back nine was, relatively speaking, worlds better: a 1-under 35 that left McIlroy tied for 27th.
McIlroy has been here before; he's held the outright lead in all four majors at one time or another, and has managed one win, last year's U.S. Open. The round that submarines his entire tournament has, unfortunately, become something of a calling card for McIlroy. Is it any easier to take if it comes on the Saturday front nine rather than the Sunday back? That's for McIlroy himself to decide.
As they left the 18th tee, Sergio draped his arm around Rory and offered consoling words that coaxed a smile out of McIlroy. It was an appropriate gesture. After all, if there's anyone who knows a thing or two about falling short of sky-high expectations, it's Garcia.
The green jacket won't happen this year for McIlroy. But then again, we only need look to last year's U.S. Open to see how fast he can rebound from adversity.
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