The four-time major winner was despondent but dignified in facing the media after finishing in a share of fifth at the 82nd Masters, vowing to return and one day claim the Green Jacket.
McIlroy’s history with Augusta is threatening to become a tortured one, insult added to injury in his latest close call which came at the hands of his Ryder Cup nemesis Patrick Reed.
“It’s hard to take any positives from it right now,” he said in the immediate aftermath of finishing six shots behind Reed and in a share of fifth place.
“At least I put myself in a position, that’s all I wanted to do. The last four years I’ve had top 10s but I haven’t been close enough to the lead.
“Today I got myself there but I didn’t quite do enough. But you know, I’ll come back next year and give it another try.”
McIlroy said he was ‘100 percent’ convinced he could win the tournament, citing his previous good play as evidence he has the tools to conquer the famed Georgia layout.
“I’ve played in two final groups in the last seven years, I’ve had five top 10s,” he said.
“I’ve played this golf course well, I just haven’t played it well enough at the right times.”
In 2011, McIlroy took a four-shot lead into the final round but amassed a humiliating 80 after a meltdown of epic proportions which began at the 10th tee.
While his 2018 effort wasn’t in that league, it will still be disappointing after a start that promised so much more.
After a wild drive at the first, he saved a miraculous par to claw one back on Reed then struck two other-worldly blows to near tap in range for an eagle at the second.
That he missed the putt set the tone for the day and while he made birdie, he went on to give the shot back at the next and repeated the pattern at the fourth and fifth.
“Even after the putt on two I still had a birdie and after where I was off the tee on one I would have taken 1-under through two,” he said with a smile.
“But every time I took a step forward I took a step backward on the next hole. I had a chance to maybe put a little bit more pressure on than I did and three and five are the ones I will look back on.
“If I could have made pars there it might have been a different story.”
McIlroy would be particularly displeased to have lost to Patrick Reed
That he made just one birdie the rest of the day was testament to a lack of momentum which he said was the biggest determining factor in the outcome.
“I feel like momentum is a huge thing, especially in final rounds,” he said.
“You look at what Jordan did (64) and what Rickie did (67) and they got on a roll and I didn’t.
“Neither Patrick and I didn’t at all; we were both around even par and just sort of grinding out there.
“It wasn’t what we both had in mind, he just hung in there a little bit better than I did and got the job done.”
This close call will hurt for the likeable Northern Irishman who was bullish on his chances Saturday night, even throwing some verbal jabs at Reed.
He suggested the pressure would be on the American to perform in the final round because it was a chance to win his first major while McIlroy was playing for ‘something else’ (i.e the career Grand Slam).
It will be particularly galling that it was Reed who came out on top after the pair had an intense Ryder Cup singles match in 2016 which also went the American’s way but if history is anything to go by McIlroy will bounce back.
After his meltdown in 2011 he went on to a dominant victory at the US Open three months later and has said more than once that his final round collapse at Augusta was the catalyst for making that happen.
While 'collapse' would be a harsh description for what unfolded in Georgia overnight, time will tell if the sting of not winning might spur McIlroy on to greater heights this northern summer.
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