McGirt leaves happy despite falling short of return ticket

After a slow start to the final round, Masters Tournament first-timer William McGirt was in position to get a return trip. With three holes to play, he was 1-under for the tournament – a number that would have earned him a top-12 finish and an automatic berth in next year’s tournament.

One swing, however, wiped that out. On the par-3 16th, his shot ended up in the pond, and he walked off the hole with a double bogey.

“It was a terrible yardage, plain and simple,” McGirt said. “I had to try to nuke a 7-iron back there. I knew 6-iron would land past the pin and probably go over, and you’re dead back there.”

McGirt dropped to 1-over, and a bogey on the final hole produced a 2-over 74, leaving him 2-over for the tournament and tied for 22nd.

The shot on No. 16 could haunt McGirt. But instead, he said all he was going to take away from his Masters debut was good feelings.

“It makes me want to come back even more,” McGirt said. “This place is so awesome, so fun I definitely don’t want it to be my last.”

day closes strong: Jason Day played the final six holes Sunday in 4-under, but it was too little, too late for the world’s No. 3 golfer.

Day concluded Sunday with birdies on Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 18 to card 71. He finished tied for 22nd and joined Brandt Snedeker as the only players to finish Sunday’s round with consecutive birdies.

“The hardest thing is obviously putting yourself in position,” Day said. “The next step is just capitalizing on those opportunities. But it was an exciting day, I can tell you that much.”

Day, who was 6-over after two rounds, played the weekend in 4-under.

mcilroy encouraged: Once again, the missing piece of the career Grand Slam eluded Rory McIlroy at Augusta National.

Facing the tough task of trying to make up a six-shot deficit entering the final round, McIlroy gave it a shot. His 3-under 69 featured only one bogey, but it wasn’t near enough to get him into contention.

But a tie for seventh at 3-under with Kevin Chappell marked McIlroy’s fourth straight top-10 finish at the tournament. And that’s enough to prove to him that he’s on the cusp of finally breaking through.

“I feel encouraged if nothing else,” he said. “I feel comfortable on the golf course and every time I tee it up here, I’ve got a chance to win.

“The ups and downs I’ve had here in the past don’t seem to be quite as up or quite as down. They seem to be more steady, and that can only bode well for the future.”

McIlroy was quick to identify a part of his game that needed immediate addressing.

“I need to change my golf ball,” he said. “I felt it was doing weird things in the wind, was very inconsistent.”

hoffman drops: Charley Hoffman left his mark on this year’s Masters by leading the first two days, but a final-round stumble pushed him down the leaderboard as the week ended.

Hoffman shot 6-over-par 78 on Sunday to finish tied for 22nd. Five bogeys and two double bogeys left him outside the top 20.

Despite the finish, it’s another solid Masters for Hoffman, who tied for ninth in 2015 and has placed just outside the top 25 twice. His 65 was his fourth round in the 60s in four Masters appearances.

eagle on 7: On Saturday, it was Chappell. On Sunday, it was Marc Leishman.

For the second straight day, the par-4 7th surrendered an eagle as Leishman followed Chappell’s 2 with one of his own Sunday. Hitting a 9-iron from 149 yards out, Leishman landed the ball on the back slope and watched it track about 30 feet back and into the cup.

Willett hits course: Danny Willett had some time to kill Sunday, so he decided to play golf at one of Augusta’s public courses.

The 2016 Masters champion, who missed Friday’s cut but had to stay around to put a green jacket on the new champion, teed off at 10:10 a.m. at Forest Hills Golf Club, a Donald Ross-designed course.

“It was good fun, it’s a good little layout,” Willett said on his way to the Champions Locker Room.

Willett was part of two foursomes whose tee times were arranged by his management team. Among the players in his group was his caddie, Jonathan Smart.

“It was a cool experience; he was very friendly,” said Kellie Pitts, a Forest Hills pro shop attendant. “It’s really exciting. We recognized him when he walked in.”

Pitts said she and others had their pictures taken with Willett.