Poor finish at Augusta not all bad for McIlroy

Updated: 04/15/2013 3:05 AM KSTP.com

(AP) AUGUSTA, Ga. - Rory McIlroy might be a good pick for anyone looking for an early U.S. Open favorite.

The world’s No. 2 player tied for 25th at the Masters on Sunday, finishing 11 shots behind winner Adam Scott. The last two times McIlroy left Augusta National disappointed, he went on to collect majors later in the season.

Two months after his spectacular back nine collapse at the 2011 Masters, he won the U.S. Open in record fashion. He plummeted off the Augusta National leaderboard on Saturday last year, then picked up the PGA Championship in August.

"I’ll take any," the Northern Irishman said. "I feel like my game’s definitely heading in the right direction, I’m hitting all the shots. It’s just a matter of committing to them all the time."

McIlroy conceded earlier in the week that the adjustment to his new clubs _ which came as part of a huge endorsement deal with Nike _ had taken some time. But he said his driving had improved greatly and he was gaining confidence with every round he played.

The clubs weren’t his problem this week, McIlroy said. In fact, if not for a 10-hole stretch Saturday in which he dropped eight strokes, he could have been right there in the hunt with Scott and Angel Cabrera.

"If I didn’t play that bad stretch of holes like that, I would be a few under par and I would be right in the mix," McIlroy said. "But I’m on the right track going forward. I’m comfortable with my golf game. The equipment hasn’t been an issue all year, it was more just me. So I’m happy where I’m heading and I’ve got a few really good events coming up I’m looking forward to those."

He’s looking forward to coming back to the Masters, too.

Though his results don’t show it, McIlroy has proven he knows how to play this course. His 3-under 69 on Sunday matched the third-best score of the day. In the last three years at Augusta, he’s had only four rounds above par.

"I know I’ve played good enough golf here to win it at times, it’s just a matter of stringing it all together in one week," he said. "I’m learning each and every year around here. And I still got plenty of more years to try and get one of those jackets."

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NOT CLOSE ENOUGH: There were no tears from Brandt Snedeker this time.

Not from him, anyway.

The third round co-leader was more frustrated than distraught after blowing another chance at the Masters, the tournament he’s dreamed of winning since he was kid. So unflappable over the first three days, Snedeker couldn’t make a putt Sunday, shooting a 3-over 75 that left him tied for sixth.

"I’m not as crushed as I was in 2008 because I know I’m going to be there again," Snedeker said as his 2-year-old daughter, Lily, cried behind him. "I putted about as poorly as I could today, and I still had a chance on the back nine. I’m very disappointed that I didn’t win, but I realize that I’m not that far off from winning this thing.

"I’m going to do it soon."

One of the lingering images of the 2008 Masters was Snedeker sobbing uncontrollably after a dismal final round that included only six pars. It was his first Masters as a professional, and he was just two years removed from the Nationwide Tour. But he had played so poorly after wanting the green jacket so badly, and he was overcome with emotion afterward.

But Snedeker, despite his youthful looks, isn’t so wide-eyed anymore.

He won the Tour Championship last year, beating Rory McIlroy. There was a three-week stretch earlier this season when he was the hottest player in golf, finishing second to Tiger Woods at the Farmers, second to Phil Mickelson in Phoenix and capping the run with a win at Pebble Beach.

"I’m not here to get a good finish," he said Saturday. "I’m not here to finish top five. I’m here to win, and that’s all I’m going to be focused on tomorrow."

He just never had it Sunday. After scratching his way through the front, he opened the back nine with two straight bogeys, including a miss from 3 feet on 10, to fall three strokes off the lead. With the two par-5s still to play, however, he wasn’t out of it.

Then he put his approach shot on 13 in Rae’s Creek. As the ball splashed into the water, Snedeker grimaced and bent both ends of his hybrid club, looking as if he wanted to snap it.

He managed to save par, only to make bogey on the 14th.

"If I putt the way I normally putt and don’t make those two loose swings, I’m right there with a chance to win the golf tournament," Snedeker said. "I know that if I do that again, play the exact same way again and I putt the way I normally do, I got a chance."

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G’DAY MATES: It was a g’day for all the Australians.

Not only did Adam Scott win the Masters on Sunday, ending the country’s agonizing drought at Augusta National, Jason Day and Marc Leishman gave Australia three golfers in the top four.

Day finished third, while Leishman and Tiger Woods tied for fourth.

"I’m a proud Australian," Scott said, "and I hope this sits really well back at home."

Australia may not have the golf tradition of, say, Scotland or England. But Australians are big on sports of any kind, and they’ve been particularly ga-ga for golf since Greg Norman was one of the world’s best.

Norman’s misfortunes at Augusta National _ 1996, anyone? _ elevated the Masters to almost mythic proportions for Australian golfers, and every one of them knew they were playing not only for themselves but the whole country any time they got in contention.

Day seemed to have the best shot, taking a two-stroke lead with three holes to go. But he made bogeys on the next two holes to fall a stroke behind, then ran a birdie putt that would have put him back in the lead a foot past the hole on 18. As the ball rolled past the cup, Day crouched down and put a hand to his face.

"I think pressure got to me a little bit," said Day, who finished two strokes behind Scott and Angel Cabrera.

"It’s a little disappointing, but there’s a lot of experience that I can take into next year," Day said. "Hopefully I can wear one of those green jackets soon."

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SEE YOU AGAIN: For a guy who’d never been to Augusta National before, John Huh figured the place out pretty quickly.

Not only did Huh get an automatic invite to next year’s Masters by finishing 11th, he also took home a nice piece of crystal after an eagle on the par-5 15th.

"That’s what I’m really looking forward to receiving," Huh said.

Asked how he knew about the prize, the Masters rookie said someone told him about it during a practice round.

"They told me, `Every time you eagle, you get crystal.’ So that’s what I was looking forward to," Huh said.

Huh was hovering on the edge of the cut line after going 70-77 the first two days. But he made it by one stroke, then climbed up the leaderboard with a 71 on Saturday. He followed that with a 4-under 68 on Sunday, the second-best score of the day.

That tied him for 11th, with Tim Clark, and ensured he’ll be back next year.

The top 12 players are guaranteed entry into next year’s tournament. Fellow Masters rookie Thorbjorn Olesen also booked a return ticket with his tie for sixth.

"That was my goal, actually, before I teed up today, trying to come back here next year if I could," Huh said. "I’m really pleased with the way I played today and look forward to playing next year."

In the meantime, Huh will savor the memories of this week.

"I’m taking two weeks off after this, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a good memory for two weeks," he said. "Hopefully I can take all the positive stuff from what I did this week to the next tournament."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)