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McIlroy Shows Uncommon Poise After Masters Meltdown

Johnie Freatman |
April 11, 2011 | 2:21 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Rory McIlroy faded Sunday but should be a contender for years to come. (via Rory McIlroy's Facebook)
Rory McIlroy faded Sunday but should be a contender for years to come. (via Rory McIlroy's Facebook)
The patrons at Augusta National had seen it before with Curtis Strange in 1984. More memorably, they had seen it in 1996 with Greg Norman. However, that did not make what happened to Rory McIlroy on Sunday any easier to watch.

Entering the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, it seemed a mere formality that McIlroy would slip into the green jacket at day’s end and become the second-youngest winner in the history of The Masters, a coronation to a breakthrough week and a portent of future dominance.

However, Sunday turned into an unthinkable disaster for McIlroy, who shot an 80 and went from probable Masters champion to sympathetic figure.

The image of him holding his head in his hands after his tee shot met a watery grave on 13 provided the perfect, wrenching visual to one of the biggest meltdowns in major championship history.

However, what was most notable about McIlroy’s collapse was the class he showed in defeat. Instead of storming out of Augusta National, McIlroy stayed and accommodated every interview request, rehashing his most painful experience ever on a golf course.

He didn’t make any excuses for his performance and admitted that the pressure of the final round impacted him, especially when he played holes 10-12 in six over par.

“I lost my speed on the greens, I lost my line, I lost everything,” McIlroy revealed.

Most importantly, the 21-year-old showed amazing perspective. Undoubtedly a student of golf’s history, he understood that many of the game’s greats had suffered crushing defeats as well and this was a day to learn from.

A Twitter post from McIlroy read, “Found it tough going, but you have to lose before you can win. This day will make me stronger."

Indeed it will. McIlroy is merely the latest young star to learn that the pressure of leading a major for the first time can be daunting.

Dustin Johnson had a three shot lead through 54 holes at last year’s U.S. Open before a final-round 81 derailed his chances.  His infamous mental gaffe at last summer’s PGA Championship cost him a chance at that major as well.

However, he bounced back from those defeats and won a FedEx Cup playoff event shortly after the PGA.

Nick Watney shot an 84 in that same PGA Championship to plummet down the leaderboard after holding a three shot lead of his own. How has he bounced back? By winning a World-Golf Championships event and contending seemingly every week.

There’s no reason to believe McIlroy will fare any differently. Many observers believe he has the best golf swing in generations. He’s already shown he can be a force in final rounds, delivering an unforgettable 62 to beat Phil Mickelson at Quail Hollow last year.

As McIlroy clearly understands, time is on his side. He was the youngest player ever to hold a third round lead at The Masters and with last year’s champion (Mickelson) being 40 years old, there’s no reason to believe he won’t challenge in the majors for decades to come.

Majors are sure to come McIlroy’s way. If all goes according to plan, he will be remembered differently than Strange and Norman; the one who overcame heartbreak at The Masters to eventually capture a green jacket of his own.

Reach Johnie Freatman by email or follow him on Twitter @scfreats.



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