McIlroy moving on from Masters disappointment

The first time Rory McIlroy recalls watching the Masters on TV

was in 1996. And like any other 6-year-old already smitten with the

game, he no doubt dreamed of being on that stage himself one

day.

Sure enough, he was.

Only he didn’t play the role of his golfing idol, Nick Faldo,

who rallied from a six-shot deficit with a 67 to win a third green

jacket.

He was more like Greg Norman.

So perhaps it was only fitting that Norman, whose 78 in the

final round of 1996 gets more attention than the two majors he won,

was among the first to call the 21-year-old from Northern

Ireland.

McIlroy turned a four-shot lead into a collapse that even Norman

must have had trouble watching. The kid hit into the cabins, into

the trees, into Rae’s Creek. He three-putted from 7 feet on one

hole, four-putted from 12 feet on the next. He missed one last

short putt on the 18th for an 80, matching a Masters record for

worst score by a 54-hole leader.

Yes, they can relate.

”Don’t listen to you guys,” McIlroy said Tuesday when asked

the best advice he received after the Masters.

He was smiling, because that’s what McIlroy tends to do in just

about any situation. What made this tongue-in-cheek reply so

interesting is that Faldo said something very similar to Norman

when they embraced on the 18th green in 1996.

Norman and McIlroy found that playing the very next week was a

tonic for getting over the ultimate hangover, although their

itineraries were vastly different. Norman was two hours away at

Hilton Head, McIlroy flew halfway around the world to Malaysia.

”I had a good chat with Greg Norman the week after, when I was

in Malaysia, and he sort of said to me, ‘From now on, don’t read

golf magazines, don’t pick up papers, don’t watch The Golf

Channel.’ But it’s hard not to,” McIlroy said. ”Obviously, you

want to keep up to date with what’s going on. But you can’t let

other people sort of influence what you’re thinking and what you

should do.

”I’ve taken my own views from what happened a few weeks ago and

moved on,” he said. ”And that’s the most important thing.”

McIlroy could have done worse than reading about his performance

at the Masters.

What resonated was not so much the triple bogey at No. 10 when

his tee shot ricocheted between cabins, or the four-putt double

bogey on No. 12 that effectively ended his Masters. Rather, it was

the amazing graciousness with which he handled such a crushing

loss.

He looked as if he wanted to hide on the back nine, when he shot

a 43. He refused to run for cover when it was over, instead

answering every question with disappointment, but not despair.

McIlroy says it took a couple of days to get over the

Masters.

”It was a great chance to win a first major, but it’s golf,”

he said. ”It’s only golf at the end of the day. No one died. I’m

very happy with my life, very happy with what’s going on, very

happy with my game.”

He says he has learned his lessons and is ready to move on.

Chief among them is that McIlroy believes that maybe he wasn’t

ready to win. That sounded odd, because he has played well beyond

his years since earning his European Tour card as an 18-year-old in

just two events.

He only has two wins, but they were significant – the Dubai

Desert Classic at 19, and a year later at Quail Hollow, where he

closed with a 62 on one of the PGA Tour’s toughest tracks. And then

there was that 63 in the opening round at St. Andrews last year,

only to get knocked down in the wind the next day with an 80.

”I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work

on,” McIlroy said.

He didn’t get into specifics, although he could have been

talking about his putting. Perhaps it was no surprise Tuesday that

Dave Stockton, a two-time major champion and putting specialist, is

now working with McIlroy.

Whatever the case, McIlroy is more interested in what lies ahead

than what’s behind him, even though the final round of the Masters

could define his career until – or if – he wins a major.

In a 20-minute interview, 13 of the opening 14 questions were

related to the Masters in some form. He expected that, and can

expect it again with a different audience in Spain and Ohio, and a

bigger audience at the U.S. Open.

”For 63 holes, I led the golf tournament, and it was just a bad

back nine – a very bad back nine – that sort of took the tournament

away from me, I suppose,” he said. ”But what can you do? There’s

three more majors this year, and hopefully dozens more that I’ll

play in my career.”

Norman received more praise for how he handled losing the

Masters than anything else he did in his Hall of Fame career. He

was showered with cards, notes and telegrams – there was no Twitter

and texting in 1996 – in the week after the Masters at Hilton

Head.

That’s similar to what McIlroy experienced.

The difference between those Masters moments is where McIlroy

goes from here. Norman was 41 when he lost his six-shot lead at

Augusta. He already had two majors, three PGA Tour money titles and

had been No. 1 longer than anyone in the world ranking.

McIlroy is just getting started. He still has a lot to

prove.