McIlroy came away with a 1-under par 71 Saturday that leaves him at even par for the tournament, six shots back of leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
Indeed, the Irishman, a four-time major champion and looking for the Masters win to complete the career grand slam, was true to his word, producing an aggressive start to his third round, his par at the first hole representing an improvement on his first two rounds. He was three shots behind, a name on the white leaderboards that was getting everyone's attention.
"I need to change my golf ball, that's a big thing", said McIlroy, who blamed his vigorous equipment testing in the off season as the main reason behind his recent rib injury. My best score round here is 65 and I'm going to need something like that if not lower to have a chance.
And he was in good shape on the par-4 fifth hole. "The one place you don't want to miss it on that green is short, which I did". From there, he three-putted for double bogey.
After the criticism he received, Rory McIlroy said he would "think twice" before accepting an invitation to play golf with President Trump a second time. "I was a little frustrated".
While Fowler and Pieters struggled to stay in touch, Spieth was building on the momentum he had created with a second-round 69 which wiped out the pain of a first-day quadruple bogey nine at the 15th.
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"It's good to have a good wife when you have something like that happen", he said of his forgettable first two rounds.
"But I holed some good ones".
"I should be making birdie off the tee shots", McIlroy said. I was just in between clubs on both of those holes and hit the wrong one on both, I guess, and left myself in an awkward position.
The world number two found just 29 of 56 fairways (52%) at Augusta National, with five out of 14 fairways on both Thursday and Friday, and he also found just 44 of 72 greens (61%) for the week. "I felt like I had an opportunity yesterday to shoot something in the mid to high 60s, which would have got me closer to the lead today and I didn't quite do that".
He also birdied the par-four third after nearly driving the green, but his charge started to peter out when he three-putted from long range for bogey at the par-four fifth after misclubbing with his approach shot. "But that's the way it is".