McIlroy needs a victory at Augusta National to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in having won all four major championships.
But while a 43-year-old Woods was doing battle for a fifth green jacket at the top of a star-studded leaderboard, McIlroy was putting the finishing touches to a second consecutive 71 to finish one under par.
The 29-year-old was eight shots off the lead as he signed his card, but low scores were the order of the day and the four-time major winner was certain to be too far back to mount a challenge on Sunday.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 13, 2019
American Patrick Cantlay had set the clubhouse target on six under after a brilliant 64, just one shot outside the course record, while compatriot Tony Finau followed four birdies in the first six holes with a tap-in eagle on the eighth to vault into the lead.
McIlroy got his round under way with a perfect drive and an approach to 25 feet but left his birdie putt inches short and then strangely opted to hit a three wood off the tee on the par-five second.
That meant he needed the same club for his approach from more than 300 yards and still came up 30 yards short of the green, from where he failed to get up and down for birdie.
A more aggressive approach looked set to pay dividends as McIlroy hit his drive to the edge of the green on the short third, but after a poor chip the four-time major winner lipped out for birdie.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 13, 2019
McIlroy was also less than happy with his tee shot on the par-three fourth, but holed from 32 feet for an unlikely birdie, only to then drop shots on the sixth, seventh and ninth, where his approach plugged in the top of a greenside bunker.
A birdie on the 10th was immediately cancelled out on the next and another bogey looked on the cards after his drive on the 13th clipped a tree – but after pitching out on to the fairway McIlroy hit his approach to 13 feet and holed for birdie.
An eagle on the 15th and a birdie on the 16th kept McIlroy’s faint hopes alive, but he then bogeyed the 18th after finding sand off the tee and with his approach.
Woods, seeking a first major title since 2008 and a first win at Augusta since 2005, parred the first four holes and bogeyed the newly-lengthened fifth for the third day running to fall four shots off the pace.