Rory's story to come full circle? McIlroy primed for Augusta glory

Seven years on from suffering heartbreak at Augusta National, Rory McIlroy looks primed to win the Masters for the first time.

Rory McIlroy in relaxed mood during round three of the Masters   -  Getty Images

Rory McIlroy insists he is not owed a Masters victory, but it is increasingly easy to believe the stars have aligned for the Northern Irishman as he seeks to complete a career Grand Slam.

Seven years have passed since McIlroy, at the age of 21, blew a four-shot lead with an agonising 80 in the final round at Augusta National.

Having won the U.S. Open, Open Championship and US PGA Championship (twice) in the interim period, he will be back in the last pairing on Sunday, this time looking to make up a three-stroke deficit on Patrick Reed – the man he duelled with so memorably in an epic Ryder Cup singles contest in 2016.

It was Reed who prevailed at Hazeltine and the American again showed he was capable of raising his game under pressure during Saturday's third round, eagling the 13th and 15th holes on his way to a 67. Having briefly been caught by a charging McIlroy on the eighth, the overnight leader responded superbly.

Nevertheless, it would take a brave man to now bet against McIlroy, who carded an exceptional 65 and is all too aware of just how tough it can be to lead the Masters with 18 holes to play before you have a major to your name.

"I know what it's like to be in that position. It isn't easy," McIlroy told Sky Sports at the conclusion of a dramatic day.

"This is my opportunity to put those wrongs [from 2011] right."

There were certainly several moments on Saturday to convince you this is McIlroy's time.

He has been noticeably relaxed this week, perhaps a consequence of last month's drought-breaking triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and his positive mood was doubtless improved by two significant strokes of luck on the front nine.

McIlroy's second shot at the fifth caught the lip of the fairway bunker he was playing from, but the ball still somehow found its way up to the green.

Then, on the par-five eighth, he looked to have over-hit a chip, only for the ball to thump into the flag and drop for a stunning eagle.

After turning in 31, McIlroy found life tougher on the way home, but he followed a gutsy par save on the 12th with a repeat at 13, courtesy of an unlikely escape from the vibrantly coloured azaleas to the left of the green.

Another excellent up-and-down came on the 15th, before yet more good fortune – recognised by McIlroy in his post-round comments – came his way at the closing hole.

A wayward tee shot evaded trouble thanks to a favourable bounce and the world number seven capitalised ruthlessly, nailing both his approach shot and a mid-range birdie putt to finish his round in style.

Reed, of course, is not the only man McIlroy has to beat on Sunday. Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm also went round in 65 to trail the leader by five and six respectively, while the likes of Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson could yet produce final-day heroics.

However, only one player is in front of McIlroy as he bids to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four modern-day majors.

In a pre-tournament interview with the Guardian, McIlroy made it clear he does not believe he is simply destined to win a green jacket, stating: "You have to go and do it yourself. It doesn't just magically fall into your lap.

"I'm not due anything, I don't deserve anything. Whoever plays the best will win."

Do not be surprised if that person is Rory.

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