McIlroy melts in Augusta heat

 

GOLF: US MASTERS:A STEP too far, too soon? If we all believed he was ready to take his place at golf’s high altar, Rory McIlroy’s quest to claim the 75th edition of the US Masters here at Augusta National yesterday ended in a degree of ignominy as he suffered a final round collapse which left him licking mental scars that could conceivably take some time to heal.

Maybe what unfolded on this hallowed turf was all part of some greater plan, but what happened to the 21-year-old Ulsterman was sport at its most cruel.

And, on a day when one unbelievable deed after another was fashioned, McIlroy’s cruel fate – with a run that started with a triple bogey seven on the 10th and continued on into Amen Corner – was documented by a final round that confined him to a role of an also ran when the real numbers were added up.

No, this was cruel. For McIlroy, and for anyone watching. And, yet, it was also compelling drama in first major of the season for those who pursued and then overtook him. When it was all over, the grand prize was claimed by Charl Schwartzel, a 26-year-old South African who finished with a final round 66 for 274, 14-under-par.

Schwartzel, emulating his friend and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen who triumphed in last year’s British Open at St Andrews, finished two strokes clear of Australian duo Jason Day and Adam Scott who came up just short in their endeavours to claim a first Masters for their country.

“I don’t believe I could ask for any more,” observed Scott, transformed by his switch to a broomhandle putter, who put together back-to-back rounds of 67 over the weekend to charge through the field.

But it was a Springbok’s day, with Schwartzel finishing with a glorious 15-foot birdie on the final hole to come out on top. Schwartzel came home in just 32 strokes – with a remarkable four birdies to finish, from the 15th – to shrug aside the pretenders to the title.

Just as Schwartzel revelled in his new status as a major champion, the downside of high drama was epitomised by the fate which befell McIlroy. The 10th hole is known as Camellia, named after a flower found mostly in Asian climes with soothing fragrances. It provided nothing but angst for McIlroy. The Par 4 of 495 yards – which traditionally plays as the toughest hole on the course – plays downhill off an elevated tee with the need to turn the ball around a corner lined with towering cathedral pines. The hole was to prove his death-knell!

McIlroy’s woes started with the drive, which crashed into a tree limb barely 100 yards off the tee and ricocheted almost as far left to come to rest between two cabins, known as Peek and Berckmans. With no option but to chip back to the fairway, his third shot missed the green left.

The melodrama continued, though, with the Ulsterman’s fourth shot clipping a tree branch and when the numbers were all totted up, he had run up a triple-bogey seven.

It was a crushing blow inflicted on McIlroy, and it was one he never recovered from. Although it dropped him from 11-under to eight-under – there remained some hope that, somehow, he could rediscover the magic of the first three rounds which had sent him into the final round four strokes clear of his nearest pursuers.

But more cruel deeds were to follow, as McIlroy collapsed around the area so angelically named Amen Corner. On the 11th, seeking redemption from his misdemeanours on the previous hole, McIlroy hit a superb approach to 12 feet, but then proceeded to three-putt (the last action with the blade from no more than 18 inches) for a bogey.

And, on the par three 12th, having again found some touch with his irons when hitting his tee-shot to 15 feet, McIlroy incredibly four-putted for a double-bogey five.

From a man with destiny in his own hands when teeing off the first, McIlroy had metamorphosed into someone who could do nothing right. One shot after another, it seemed, went astray. It was the hardest and cruellest lesson that anyone has been taught here for a long, long time with echoes of Greg Norman’s collapse in 1996 when he saw a seven-shot 54-holes lead evaporate as Nick Faldo took the title.

Afterwards, McIlroy talked of his disappointment at what had unfolded and of the hope that the episodes would build “character.”

“I led for three and a half days . . . it will take a bit of time to get over it, but I will get over it. And I will be stronger because of it,” said McIlroy.

On an extraordinary day of drama, where the temperatures touched 90 degrees Fahrenheit, there were many surges that took players to within touching distance of the title.

After one of the craziest final days of any Major though the ages, everyone was seeking to take some solace . . . all except Schwartzel, the grand prize was his and his alone.

AS IT HAPPENED: HOW McILROY'S NIGHTMARE UNFOLDED

2pm: Far from spending a relaxing morning with his own thoughts, McIlroy gets the blood pumping screaming at the telly during Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final. “Good luck Ulster Rugby!!,” he tweets, demonstrating a penchant for exclamation points not uncommon in Twitterland. “Watching here in Augusta. Let’s do the double!!!”

4pm: Ulster take a pounding in Milton Keynes. That’s the double down the drain then. “Proud of the lads!,” he commiserates. “They gave it a great go!”

6.35pm: The third round leader limbers up on the practice range alongside caddie JP Fitzgerald. If there are nerves, and lets face it, there must be, the youngster is hiding them well as he chats readily with fellow players and wellwishers alike.

7.00pm: Having caught the build-up on Sky, it’s over to the Beeb for the main event. A curious thing happens in the time it takes to change channels, however. Whereas McIlroy was Northern Irish over on Sky, with the channel reserving a special welcome for viewers from the North, he is now unequivocally British as Auntie nails her colours firmly to the mast.

7.40pm:McIlroy collects the most important scorecard of his career. At just 21 golfing immortality beckons. It’s a steamy afternoon, almost 90 degrees in old money, and feeling the heat McIlroy gives one straight back to the field.

8.40pm. Another bogey at the fifth sees McIlroy drop into a three-way tie alongside Charl Schwartel and a charging Tiger Woods. According to the various talking heads, he will need “character”, “temperament”, “mental fortitude” etc . . . to see him through. A little luck of the, eh, British wouldn’t go astray either.

9.50pm:McIlroy’s challenge unravels on the 10th, his tee shot rebounding off a tree into somebody’s garden. “I’ve never seen anybody there, nobody,” opines Wayne Grady. “Not even one of the members.” Peter Allis is “shocked”, “saddened” and “stunned”. The triple whammy then. “Gutwrenching,” tweets his close friend Graeme McDowell.

10.30pm:Three putts on 11, four more on 12, a wild drive on 13 and a funereal atmosphere descends on the BBC bunker. Slow motion shots of the torment are even accompanied by some appropriate mood music to highlight his anguish. “Thinking about switching my TV off,” tweets McDowell.

“It is cruel and terrible to see such a talented young golfer being destroyed like this,” adds Stephen Fry. “Makes me sob.” Stephen Fry a golf fan then. Who knew?

10.55pm: “Sometimes sport can be so horrible and cruel so gutted for Rory but they say what doesnt kill u can makes u stronger. Rory will be back,” tweets Tony McCoy. – NOEL O’REILLY