AUGUSTA, Ga. — “Now I’m ready.”
Those were Rory McIlroy’s words on Saturday as if he was talking himself into believing this was his time to finally win a Masters for the first time.
And those weren’t McIlroy’s only words. He was hardly finished there.
After putting himself in position for a final-round run at his fifth major championship and the completion of the rare career grand slam — three shots behind leader Patrick Reed entering Sunday’s final round — McIlroy went Rambo-gamesmanship on the man he would be chasing Sunday.
“Patrick has got a three-shot lead; I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said. “He’s got to go out and protect that, and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big‑time players. He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight. I feel like I can go out there and play like I’ve got nothing to lose.
“I’m really excited to go out there and show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got. All the pressure’s on him tomorrow. He went to Augusta State and has a lot of support out here. I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party.”
By day’s end, though, the only party McIlroy spoiled was his own.
Instead of chasing down Reed, who beat him 1-up in that epic 2016 Ryder Cup leadoff single match at Hazeltine, McIlroy slowly faded from contention, doomed by his putting that had been such a big part of his recent resurrection.
McIlroy closed with a surprising (and highly disappointing) 2-over 74 and finished six shots behind Reed, who would get the trip over to Butler Cabin to slip on the green jacket he so desperately craved.
“Look, of course it’s frustrating,’’ McIlroy said afterward.
McIlroy wasn’t exactly effusive about Reed, saying, “He just hung in there a little bit better than I did and got the job done.”
“I’ll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better,” McIlroy said. “I don’t know, I just … I just didn’t quite have it today. I played some great golf [Saturday]. I just didn’t continue that golf into today.”
Failure is perhaps the most potent fuel of all. And McIlroy appeared propelled by it, having grown from the four-shot final-round lead he blew in the 2011 Masters, where he closed with an 80 and openly cried into his arm during his round as his meltdown played out in front of the golf world in HDTV.
McIlroy, always one of the most honest, candid interviews in sports, called that 2011 experience at Augusta “a huge turning point in my career.’’
“It was the day that I realized I wasn’t ready to win major championships, and I needed to reflect on that and realize what I needed to do differently,’’ he said. “But now I am ready.’’
But he wasn’t on Sunday.
And perhaps making this one hurt more than 2011, McIlroy lost this Masters after so boldly calling out Reed as the player who would be under the most pressure. Yet it was McIlroy who played more like he succumbed to the pressure as it seemingly ate away at his putting stroke when it counted most.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance, to be honest,” McIlroy said before the final round. “All the pressure is on him. Patrick’s going for his first [major] and I’m going for … something else.’’
McIlroy now must wait another year in his pursuit of that something else. He’ll have to wait because it was Reed, not him, who handled the pressure best in the cauldron of Sunday major championship pressure.
The early sign that this wasn’t going to be McIlroy’s day came at the par-5 second hole, where he was unable to convert a 4-foot eagle putt that would have tied Reed for the lead. It looked like it was going to be a dream start for McIlroy, with Reed wobbling slightly.
It was as disappointing a birdie as you’ll ever see.
His day would get no better from there — thanks in large part to his balky putting.
What will gall McIlroy most when he looks back at this Masters in quiet moments is this: It was right there for him to seize, and he failed to grab it.
Reed shot only a 1-under 71 in the final round. That means a 67 from McIlroy would have done it for him, elevated him into a heady club of career grand slam winners — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
At the end of this day, McIlroy was not ready.