As he acknowledged, it takes on different forms but in a sporting context we’re seeing a pretty good example at this 84th edition from McIlroy himself.
Completely out of sorts during a first round 75, his worst opening score at any Masters, he continued the robust recovery he started on Friday by following up his 66 on that occasion with a gutsy 67.
Rory McIlroy doesn’t look like he will earn the green jacket but he impressed on Saturday
McIlroy started with a shaky 75, but has had two good rounds since with a 65 and now a 67
Following the completion of what should have been the second day’s play on Saturday morning, we had a first in majors history at the end of any round — the world’s top three players tied for the lead .
It was as if McIlroy took one look at the sight of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas at the top of the board and proclaimed: ‘Don’t forget about me.’
What made his progress particularly impressive on Saturday was that he plainly did not have his ‘A’ game. There were a number of ropey shots you never see when his shot-making is bang on point. The demons that haunt him round this place also came out to play at the risk-reward par five 13th.
McIlroy has actually played this hole in 20 under par during his Masters career but no wonder they say that stats can lie.
The overriding memory remains of the tormented youngster, leading going into the final round, who stumbled with a horror back nine in 2011 and knew the game was up when he found the creek at the 13th. He was at it again with a horrific hooked drive on Thursday and then there was Saturday’s fun and games.
McIlroy came to this hole following a wonderful spot of luck at the 12th. He thought his tee shot was heading for the water. ‘Oh, Rory,’ he shouted, pleading for the ball to keep travelling. It did so, finding the front bunker. He then holed the sand shot for an unlikely two. He was five under for his round, eight under for the tournament and with all the momentum.
‘He could get to 12 under and really post a number if he keeps going like this,’ Sir Nick Faldo said excitedly on American television.
So to the not-so-lucky 13th. Another poor drive on this hole necessitated laying up in two. A good pitch left him with a 9ft birdie putt. He had the chance to escape once more, but he missed that one and then missed the tiddler back for his first bogey in 32 holes. What a gut-wrencher.
Another came at the par five 15th where he found the water with his second shot. Then, some more of that grit for which he’s never been given enough credit. He still made par and then birdied the 16th. He surely can’t win but he could still make the top three or five, which would be a massive morale boost given the technical and mental issues he’s battling.
McIlroy admitted afterwards that he had been tentative during the opening round, before freewheeling thereafter. ‘Maybe that’s the secret, don’t think too much about it,’ he said. It’s a thought he should stick with at Augusta.
Dustin Johnson is currently leading the pack and is four shots ahead of Abraham Ancer
By his side was Mr Grit himself, Bernhard Langer, at 63 the oldest man ever to make the halfway cut. Many expected the German to fold but that’s not exactly the story of his career. He birdied both short holes on the back nine for a 73 to continue his remarkable sub-plot at this year’s event.
For Tiger Woods, the third round began with the historical parallels positively unnerving between him and Jack Nicklaus’s sixth green jacket win in 1986. Like Nicklaus, Tiger began his pursuit of a sixth win ranked 33rd in the world. Like Jack, there was a 23 year gap since he won his first. Just to complete the picture, Tiger was tied 17th at halfway — just like Jack all those years ago.
History won’t be repeating itself, alas. It was an ominous sign when Woods started doing some stretching exercises walking down the second fairway.
Clearly, having to get up at first light to finish his second round hadn’t done his fused back any favours. He didn’t play badly, just not well enough to remain in touching distance of the lead. He finished with a 72 for five under and the defending champion will be playing for pride.
As for the in-form top three, Johnson got off to a blistering start for the second day running. On Friday he didn’t take advantage, although a birdie at his final hole felt important at the time, as it gave him a share of the lead.
Its value became clear on Saturday when he followed an eagle at the par five second with birdies at the third and fourth — the latter following an outrageous 45ft putt — to move to 14 under and establish clear daylight between himself and his two peers.
There are days when the prodigiously gifted 36-year-old American, who finished runner-up to Tiger last year, makes the game look ridiculously easy, with his languid stride and stellar ball-striking. This was shaping up like one of them as he fired bullets down each fairway.
Tiger Woods is down the order and will be playing for pride on the final day of the Masters
Alongside him, world No 2 Rahm rather helped Johnson in his task by making a complete mess of the par five 8th. A hole he would hope to birdie, the Spaniard ran up a horrible double bogey and played the front nine in a poor 37 shots. In no time at all he had fallen six shots behind Johnson.
Thomas fared rather better over that opening half. He birdied the second and the sixth and was rather unlucky to reach the turn in 34 shots and somehow fall three in arrears. He remained that far behind after 12 holes.
Playing with him and on the same score was the gritty — that word again — Mexican Abraham Ancer, playing in his first Masters.
He doesn’t hit the ball anything like as far as Johnson or Thomas but he’s proficient with his irons and has a solid short game.
As for the four-pronged English challenge at halfway, they were all struggling to keep pace with the impressive frontrunner. Paul Casey was faring best at a couple under for his round with two to play but even he was seven back, as was Tommy Fleetwood, who was level for the day after 13. Danny Willett was back in tied 18th place at one over, with Justin Rose on the same mark as Woods in tied 22nd place with four holes to play