Rory McIlroy waves to the crowd after making a putt on the seventh hole of Sunday’s final round at the Masters. (Reuters)
The 2014 Masters
Bubba Watson pulls away for his second Masters championship on Sunday, Apr. 13.
AUGUSTA — Rory McIlroy ended a frustrating Masters on a high with his best round of the tournament on Sunday to record his first top 10 finish at Augusta National.
A day after he suffered the embarrassment of being beaten by a non-competing amateur marker, McIlroy provided a reminder of what is capable of with a final round of 3-under 69.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming back here. I love the golf course,” he said.
“I love playing it and I know I can do well here. It’s just a matter of making the most of my chances because I gave myself plenty of chances here this week.
“If I had converted a few more and played the par-fives better, it could have been a different story.”
With his fiance Caroline Wozniacki watching from the galleries, McIlroy finished the tournament at level par and tied for eighth place, surpassing his previous best result of equal 15th in 2011.
The Masters was the only major the Northern Irishman had not finished top 10 and he said his performance had given him renewed confidence he could eventually win the coveted green jacket.
“I’m really comfortable on the tees. I’m really comfortable with the second shots. I’m comfortable on the golf course,” McIlroy said.
“I figured (out) something in my putting today on the sixth hole and then I putted a little better after that.”
McIlroy has struggled at Augusta National ever since he blew a lead in the 2011 tournament.
Ahead by four shots at the start of the last day, McIlroy closed with an 80 that included a triple-bogey on the 10th hole that sent him tumbling out of contention.
The following day he burst into tears when he spoke to his mother on the telephone.
He was in contention in 2012 before shooting nine-over for the weekend, then threw away any hope of winning last year with a 79 on the Saturday.
He broke par in three of his four rounds this year but paid the price for a second round 77 that almost saw him miss the cut until he made a par-save putt on the last.
“It’s been a frustrating week, because I felt like from tee-to-green I played as good as the leaders,” he said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played as good tee-to-green around this course as I have this week. Above par is very comfortable, I just need to take some more chances that I’ve given myself on the greens.”
The 24-year-old’s strong finish helped make amends for his surprise loss to a marker on Saturday. As the last of the 51 players to make the cut and because there was an odd number, the former world number one was assigned a marker, Augusta local and club member Jeff Knox.
Although he was allowed to play, Knox’s main job was to record his playing partner’s score. His own score was not officially recognized but when the pair completed their rounds, he had shot a 70 to McIlroy’s 71.
“I feel more comfortable here. I feel like I can go out and play my game and hit the shots. I’m definitely not as tentative around this place as I used to be,” McIlroy said.
“I’m becoming a lot more aggressive and hitting iron shots closer. And I think that’s a good thing because I just feel more comfortable on the golf course. I’m not as scared with some of the trouble, runoffs. Because you know what to expect.”