AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Rory McIlroy, a pre-tournament favorite who barely made the cut, rallied to his best Masters finish in six appearances Sunday and said he has never felt more comfortable playing at Augusta National.
A two-time major champion at age 24, the Irishman posted a final round of 3-under-par 69, his best score of the week, and finished at even-par 288. That was good for a tie for eighth, bettering his tie for 15th in 2011 when he led after 54 holes and shot 80 in the final round.
“It’s been a frustrating week because from tee to green, I played as good as the leaders,” McIlroy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played as good tee to green around this course as I have this week. I love the golf course. I love playing it, and I know I can do well here. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of most of my chances, and I gave myself plenty of chances.”
McIlroy had a rousing run of four birdies in a five-hole stretch in the middle of the round starting at No. 7. But he bogeyed both par 5s on the back nine, ending any hope for a higher finish. Still, he was obviously pleased with his play on the weekend that included a 71 on Saturday.
“I feel more comfortable here,” he said. “I feel like I can play my game and hit shots. I’m not as tentative around this place as I used to be. I’m being a lot more aggressive.”
Putter costs Scott
Adam Scott clearly relished his role as defending Masters champion, even if his putting stroke seemed to desert him on the weekend and he had to settle for a tie for 14th place a year after his playoff victory over Angel Cabrera.
“The story of my weekend was some sloppy stuff around the greens,” he said after posting 72 Sunday and 1-over 289 for the week. “And that doesn’t bode well around here. It’s not been my best week with the putter. When it gets on fire here you’re going to have a lot of long putts. I just left myself so much work to do.”
Still, unlike Bubba Watson, who said he had a long hangover of nearly two years of mediocre golf after winning in 2012, Scott said he thoroughly embraced the last year, and especially this last week.
“I’ve enjoyed the week thoroughly,” he said. “I’ll never forget the experiences I’ve had in playing this tournament as a defending champion. All the ovations you received around here are amazing memories for me.”
One more time
Two-time champion Ben Crenshaw played in his 43rdMasters this week and said he will make 2015 his last trip around Augusta National.
Gentle Ben had 11 top-10 finishes in the event and won in 1984 and 1995. He told The Golf Channel on Saturday that it’s now time to go after not making the cut since 2007.
“Is it hard? Very hard,” he said. “But I have been so fortunate. I have to look at the good things that have happened. I have to pull over and watch. I’m very resigned to being an encourager for everybody as much as I can. I’m very happy with it. I’ve thought about for a long time. A lot of times I thought I could have stepped down earlier.”
Crenshaw has been a huge supporter of fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, who spent a year at the University of Texas, Crenshaw’s alma mater, before turning pro last year. Crenshaw’s old Masters caddie, Augusta native Carl Jackson, has helped Spieth with tips on how the course plays, and Spieth played practice rounds with Crenshaw this week.
The 50 set
With birdies on his first two holes, Fred Couples, 54, got within two shots of the lead early in his final round, but the 1992 champion could not sustain a charge and had to settle for a tie for 20th after a final round 75 left him at over 290 for the week.
Still, the popular Champions Tour regular had his sixth consecutive top-20 finish on his favorite course in the world, and two other old-timers — German Bernhard Langer, 56, and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, — also had impressive showings.
Jimenez shot 66-71 on the weekend and was in fourth place at 4-under 284, his best ever finish here. Two-time champion Langer had a 69 Sunday and tied for eighth place, his best showing since 2008.
“Some people like certain golf courses,” Couples said. “If you play well and putt well and get a feel for the greens, you can do well. Some people are intimidated. But you get to know the course, you know the wind, and you know how to play it.”