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As Masters awaits, Rory McIlroy has driving and putting issues to shore up

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s first missed cut since last August came with an unceremonious end early Saturday at The Players Championship. The Northern Irishman closed with a 73 for a 5-over total, three removed from the cut line.

Following an opening 76, McIlroy quickly headed in the wrong direction in Round 2 with a bogey-double bogey run through Nos. 5 and 6 on Friday. A thunderstorm halted the round late Friday and McIlroy had to return to TPC Sawgrass early Saturday where he finished with a bogey at No. 18.

“You just have to be really on to play well here. If you’re a little off, it definitely magnifies where you are off,” McIlroy said. “It’s a bit of an enigma. Some years I come here, and like it feels easier than others. It’s just a tricky golf course, and you don’t hit fairways and you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Full-field scores The Players Championship

Hitting fairways was a problem for McIlroy – he managed to find just 13 of 28 fairways through 36 holes – but the bigger issue was his play on the greens. He finished 125th in strokes gained: putting and 141st in strokes gained: around the green.

McIlroy conceded the external pressure of being the PGA Tour’s most outspoken proponent in the circuit’s ongoing rift with LIV Golf and a player director on the Tour’s policy board, which approved sweeping changes to next year’s schedule during a seven-hour meeting prior to last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, have taken a toll.

“I’d love to get back to being a golfer, yeah. Look, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s been, honestly, it’s been a busy sort of six or eight months. But as I said at the start of the week, everything has sort of been announced now, and the wheels have been put in motion, so it should obviously quiet down from here,” he said.

McIlroy’s next start will be the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, followed by the Masters. Before that, he said he plans to take a scouting trip next week to Augusta National to prepare for the year’s first major.