McIlroy's hopes for Masters breakthrough fade

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Rory McIlroy fired six birdies in a five-under par 67 on Saturday, but said he has likely left it too late in his latest bid to complete a career Grand Slam at the Masters.

McIlroy didn't gain any ground on tournament leading world number one Dustin Johnson despite his strong third-round effort, and the American star was showing no signs of slowing down.

"I think I've left myself too far back after the bad first day, but, you know, I'll give it a good effort (Sunday) and see where that leaves me," the 31-year-old Northern Ireland star said.

His goal on Sunday will be "a good round of golf.

"Just try to do the same thing I've done the last couple of days, go out and try to hit every fairway, try to hit every green, try to make a birdie on every hole if you can," McIlroy said. "

McIlroy had kept his hopes alive with a second-round 66 on a marathon Friday that started nightmarishly -- with three bogeys as he resumed his interrupted first round.

"It was those last nine holes," McIlroy said of the Friday morning completion of his first round, made necessary after a three-hour weather delay on Thursday.

"Just trying to get in under par and do the complete opposite -- that was the tough part."

The shuffling of the tournament schedule again made for some uncertainty on Saturday morning.

McIlroy said he learned of his third-round start time less than half an hour before he was due on the tee.

"Maybe that's the key," he said, "not to think about it too much."

McIlroy got off to a strong start with a birdie at the second, where he blasted out of a greenside bunker to seven feet and made the putt.

He birdied three in a row at the eighth, ninth and 10th, rolling in a 13-footer at nine to gain a shot after landing his tee shot in the pinestraw under the trees.

He holed out from a bunker for birdie at the 12th, but gave a stroke back at the par-five 13th where he three-putted from 10 feet.

He was back to eight-under for the tournament after a 12-foot birdie at 16.

- Try to simplify -

McIlroy, who won the last of his four major titles in 2014, is making his sixth attempt to complete a career Grand Slam at Augusta National and become just the sixth man to win each of the four majors at least once.

But McIlroy said he covets a Masters title just for itself, and not only as part of a career Grand Slam.

"It's the Masters and Augusta National, it's some of the coolest traditions in our game," McIlroy said. "Of course you want to be part of that for the rest of your life if you can.

"But at the end of the day you have to try to simplify it as much as you can, and it's just a golf tournament," McIlroy added. "You're playing against guys you see every week. It shouldn't be that different."

For the first time at Augusta, McIlroy has 10-week old daughter Poppy to take his mind off the tournament off the course.

"I keep saying I don't think it helps me in terms of the shots that I hit out there or anything like that," he said of the new perspective fatherhood has brought. "But I think just the approach to the game ...

"As soon as you get home you're not thinking about yourself, you're thinking about something else. It's nice to get away from the thought of the tournament sometimes."