McIlroy moves on from Masters meltdown

It’s impossible not to like Rory McIlroy, and not just as a golfing prodigy and Masters favorite.

The Irishman entered the interview room Tuesday morning at the Masters, knowing he’d be forced to re-live the worst round of his life in forensic detail, and did so with poise, self-deprecating humor, honesty and a maturity and perspective far beyond his 22 years.

“It wasn’t the end of the world. It’s only golf. It’s not like anyone died out there,” he said of last year’s final round capitulation.

It’s a nice-sounding line but what was more important was that it didn’t seem rehearsed. Like everything he says, it comes naturally and you sense that it’s what he believes.

McIlroy held a four-shot lead going into last year’s final round, only to shoot 80. His dreams of a green jacket came undone firstly with a hooked tee shot on the 10th that led to a triple-bogey, then he three-putted the next for bogey and four-putted the 12th for double-bogey.

He’ll be forced to relive a bit of last year’s final round this year as he’s been paired with Angel Cabrera, his playing partner that day, in the first two rounds as well as Bubba Watson.

“I learned a lot,” he said.

“As a person and as a golfer, I wasn’t ready to win the Masters; wasn’t ready to win a major.”

In golf, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing Tiger Woods speak guardedly or in generalizations, and reveal little.

McIlroy, to say the least, represents a refreshing change.

He told of the phone call he had with his mother, Rosie, to whom he’s very close, the morning after last year’s Masters.

“It was the first time that I had cried in a long time about anything,” McIlroy admitted.

“I suppose I let it all out that morning, and I definitely felt better after it.”

Imagine Tiger betraying such an intimacy?

Neither can I.

McIlroy — who went on last year to win the US Open by eight shots — has clearly thought long and hard about why he fell apart last year.

“It wasn’t just the tee shot (on the 10th), it was how I approached the whole day. I went through it a million times,” he said.

Essentially, he tried to emulate Woods, the champion he’s dreamed of beating since he was a boy. Woods is all-business on Sundays at majors: silent, intense, focused.

“I tried to be too focused, too perfect,” the world No. 2-ranked player admitted.

“I was always looking at the ground. I was very insular. Sort of like I didn’t want the outside world to get in instead of embracing the situation and saying, ‘I’ve got a four-shot lead at the Masters, let’s enjoy this."

“You still have to have fun out there, it’s not all business.”

During a practice round last week, he faced the demons — such as they are — of the 10th, where his tee shot finished by cabins that have never been in play.

“Obviously, the first time I played the back nine last week, obviously there’s memories that come back and memories that you probably don’t want,” he said with a chuckle.

“I mean, I can’t believe how close the cabins are. They are only 50 yards off the tee (laughs).

“But, look, it’s great to be able to laugh about it now.”

“It’s fine. I got that all out of the way and just looking forward to this week and looking forward to putting myself in contention to try and win this thing.

“I feel like I’m bringing in some pretty good form, and just excited to get started.”

During his interview, his phone rang, which is a no-no at Augusta National.

Journalists have been warned that if they are caught with cell phones outside of the media center, they’ll have their credentials revoked.

Players know the rules, too.

“Sorry, phone’s going. No phones at Augusta,” McIlroy said, to raucous laughter.

A green-coated member responded: “We didn’t hear anything.”

Yet I have a feeling we’ll be hearing from McIlroy again before the week is out.