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McIlroy Will Bounce Back

Dermot Gilleece reflects on the poor finish at the Masters for the young Irishman

Posted Apr 11, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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It was a strange, strange Sunday at Augusta National, especially for those of us who had spent the morning researching every possible angle of Rory McIlroy as a prospective Masters champion.  On reflection, we should have known better than to be engaged in the decidedly dangerous exercise of counting chickens, even if the omens were so good.

From my own standpoint, the one thing that weighted heavily in McIlroy’s favour was that Tiger Woods, the player who seemed likely to be his greatest threat, was seven strokes back after 54 holes.  The memory of Nick Faldo’s margin of six shots behind Greg Norman in the same circumstances in 1996, seemed to be a comfort.  And while there was an deep awareness of Charl Schwartzel as a highly accomplished player, a 30th place finish on his Masters debut last year didn’t indicate anything more than an average aptitude  for golf’s most searching test.

Later in an extraordinarily eventful day, I found myself remembering a conversation with Jack Nicklaus concerning Augusta National some years ago.  Was it reasonable, I asked the great man, that the merest touch of a putter blade should represent an actual stroke of golf on those treacherously slick greens?  “Absolutely,” Nicklaus replied. “I believe putting should be as much a test of nerve as it is of skill.”

Much has already been made of McIlroy’s triple-bogey on the 10th as the killer blow in his Masters quest.  But even then, he was only two strokes behind Schwartzel with eight holes to play.   No, it was a four-putt double-bogey on the 12th which effectively cooked McIlroy’s goose.  “Once I hit that tee shot on 13, I realised that was it,” he later admitted.  The tee-shot in question was a pulled drive into water with a club that is normally the strongest in his bag.  And the image of McIlroy with his head buried in his right arm is one that will live long in the memory.

Earlier in the day, I asked his manager, Chubby Chandler, if any special strategy had been worked out for the final round.  Had he considered it necessary to seek psychological guidance for his 21-year-old client facing the toughest mental and emotional battle of  his young life.   No, I was told.  Everything would remain as normal.  The final-round strategy would rest with McIlroy and his caddie, JP Fitzgerald.  There was an acknowledgement of the player’s nervousness going into battle, but that was to be expected in the circumstances.

In shooting a final round of 80 as third-round leader of the Masters, McIlroy is in elite company.  It happened to no less a practitioner than Sam Snead who, in 1951 at Augusta, tumbled from the top of the leaderboard to a share on eighth place behind Ben Hogan on what, one assumes, was another very eventful day at this fabled venue.

“It will be pretty tough for me for the next few days but I will get over it. I will be fine,” said the youngster. “There are a lot worse things that can happen in your life. Shooting a bad score in the last round of a golf tournament is nothing in comparison to what other people go through.”  Just so.

History tells us that Snead bounced back to win the green jacket the following year.   And while this is hardly the time to engage in further chicken-counting regarding McIlroy, I have no doubt he is going to be fine.  Great players of the past discovered that learning how to lose, is part of learning how to win.  Young Rory is going to be all right.  In the meantime, he will discover that he made a very significant, albeit a negative contribution, to one of the most remarkable days in the rich history of golf’s rite of spring.

- Dermot Gilleece

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