By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Not for the first time at a major, a poor first round all but ended Rory McIlroy's victory chances and left him wondering what he needs to do to overcome his Masters jinx and complete the career grand slam.
It would be all too easy for amateur psychologists to maintain that McIlroy succumbs to the early pressure before freeing up once he has no choice but to release the shackles and go birdie hunting.
But he just about acknowledged as much after finishing equal fifth on Sunday, nine strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson at Augusta National on Sunday.
The Northern Irishman shot 75 66 67 69, finally jumping onto the leaderboard in the final round, even if the good ship Johnson had sailed by then.
"I just got a little careful, a little tentative... just didn't trust my swing, didn't commit to what I was doing, and this course more than any other can make you do that at times," McIlroy said recalling his first round which spilled into a second day.
"The first day I actually did okay. I was even par through nine (holes) and then just that second morning I just didn't quite have it (completing the first round).
"I need to take the positives. I played the last 54 (holes) really well and only made two bogeys in that stretch, which is probably the best run of golf I've played here."
McIlroy endured a similarly poor start at last year's British Open in his homeland at Royal Portrush, hitting his first tee shot out-of-bounds en route to shooting 79 and missing the cut despite a second round of 65.
But while he might never get a chance of playing another Open at Portrush, he will have another crack at the Masters in only five months as the tournament is expected to return to its usual April timeslot.
Whether spectators will return next year remains uncertain, given the rising number of coronavirus cases in the United States, but McIlroy suspects he was helped without the energy that thousands of fans provide.
"I loved the feeling of being relaxed out there and it's something I probably need to try to adopt going into five months' time," he said.
McIlroy needs to win the Masters to become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam of all four majors, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar)