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Poor finish at Augusta not all bad for McIlroy

Monday - 4/15/2013, 3:33am  ET

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, holds up his ball after putting on the third green during the fourth round of the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2013, in Augusta, Ga. Left is his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

NANCY ARMOUR
AP National Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- 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."

___

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.

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