Time very much on McIlroy’s side
So where exactly does Rory McIlroy go from here? All too often, sport can deal the cruellest of blows and witnessing his final round meltdown was car crash television. Excruciatingly painful for player and supporter alike.
The numbers don’t lie. Posting 80 in the final round of a major will derail anyone’s title aspirations. The manner in which he capitulated is obviously a worry, but the legacy such a round leaves and how long the scar tissue will take to heal is the main concern.
But let’s work with the glass half full approach for a second and try to extract something positive for the young 21-year-old, who must surely be in a lonely place just now.
Let us not forget that he led the season’s first major for three-and-a-half days. His swing held up for the first 63 holes and, if that drive on 10 been just a few yards further right we would be having different conversations around the water-coolers this afternoon.
But sport is all about what-ifs, and lurching from one disaster to another down the 10th hole, McIlroy’s fate was sealed. Few mortals, if any, would have turned it around from there in the most pressurised nine holes in golf – the back nine on Sunday at Augusta.
I would read little into the missed putts after the 10th, they were a consequence of what went before and should have no lasting impact. The 10th hole was where all the damage was done, and there would be no hiding place. That his meltdown took place on the biggest stage in golf simply made it all the more painful.
“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” offered a disbelieving Tony McCoy watching at home. If there is any truth in such statements, then Rory McIlroy will one day benefit from the almighty hit he took last night.
Maybe it’s time to remember how one so young closed out the deal with the imperious final round 62 at Quail Hollow. Granted, that wasn’t a major – the big four can reduce your cerebral cortex to guacamole – but it oozed class and what’s more, proof he can close out the deal.
For that is the question he will be constantly faced with these coming weeks and months. It is one that will become tiresome, but can only be answered out on the course.
Critics of the youngster will argue he has form and point to the British Open at St Andrews last year when he followed up an opening 63 with a second round 80. But remember how he battled back with a 69, 68 over the weekend to tie for third.
Others will compare his Masters demise to Greg Norman’s capitulation against Nick Faldo in 1996 – just another example of how even the world’s best can fold when it matters most.
One curious thought was the relationship between player and caddie when McIlroy’s spiral began. How does a caddie like JP Fitzgerald get into his player’s mind and try to calm him down. Did he offer the right type of support or by this stage was there nothing could be done other than try to shepherd your man home and out of the glare?
McIlroy has time on his side, he’s already a winner on both sides of the Atlantic and possesses one of the finest techniques in the game.
He left the leafy surrounds of Augusta and was quickly off to Kuala Lumpur on a private jet with ISM stablemate and US Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel. Can’t imagine how that in-flight chat will have gone, but uncomfortable situations will be a norm for McIlroy for a time.
The manner in which he talked in the immediate aftermath of the final round spoke volumes for him as an individual. He will have gone even further up in peoples’ estimations as he took it on the chin and showed maturity way beyond his years.
Rory McIlroy was dealt a serious blow. From here he just has to believe in himself and a win at this week’s Malaysian Open would be a fine starting point in the healing process.