Friday 24 March 2017

McIlroy: 'I won't let that happen again'

Tom Cary

Rory McIlroy answers questions at a press conference in Kuala Lumur yesterday ahead of this week's Malaysian Open. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy answers questions at a press conference in Kuala Lumur yesterday ahead of this week's Malaysian Open. Photo: Getty Images

Thirty hours is a long time to spend contemplating one of the most painful and heartbreaking collapses in golfing history.

It is a safe bet that some dark thoughts crossed Rory McIlroy's mind as he made the 10,000-mile trek across 12 time zones from Augusta, Georgia, to the almost equally verdant Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, where he seeks to exorcise his demons in the Malaysian Open which begins today.

The Ulsterman looked a broken man as he shuffled into yesterday's press conference, almost on autopilot. How much of that was to do with the jet lag and how much the mental anguish of what he had endured since Sunday was a moot point.

Let us hope it is the former because what he went on to say was overwhelmingly positive and you desperately wanted to believe it.

The 21-year-old insisted he would look back on last week's tournament with fond memories, said he had been humbled by the public support he had received in the wake of his Masters meltdown and added, most defiantly of all, that he would "definitely not let it happen again".

Of course, we will not know whether he is as true as his word until he puts himself in contention once more -- and he will, of that there can surely be no doubt -- but all the same it was heartening to hear him speak with such conviction.

Positives

"I'm really just looking at the positives," McIlroy said when asked whether any negativity had crept in on the long flight over.

"Obviously, when you travel like that, you have a lot of time to reflect. I led that golf tournament for 63 holes. Everyone is going to have bad days. Mine just happened to be on the most important day of my golfing career.

"But I'm a very positive person and I know I'll get over it. I know I'll learn from it."

This was encouraging stuff. Beneath the Clark Kent-style glasses, which combined with the jet lag and the unruly hair lent McIlroy the air of a hung-over student, it was just about possible to detect the Superman who had lit up Augusta National for three days, topping the driving statistics, second in greens in regulation and tweeting all the while.

McIlroy admitted he did not have an answer to the hardest question. Namely, whether the anguish of letting slip a four-shot lead on the final day of the Masters will prove a mental barrier in years to come. But he repeated the point he made last week about learning from his mistakes.

"This time I backed up a good score with another good score, which I didn't do at St Andrews," he said of the 80 he posted in the second round at last year's British Open having opened with a 63. "That was a mistake I made which I didn't make again. Hopefully, the mistakes I made last Sunday I won't do again when I'm next in that position."

McIlroy made no bones about the fact that the occasion had got the better of him; admitting that the lure of the Green Jacket had played on his mind even before he teed off on Sunday. "It is very hard to keep yourself in the present and not think about winning or putting on that Green Jacket or walking up the last with a two or three-shot lead," he said. "And sleeping on a lead for a couple of nights in a Major is hard work. The one thing I have learned is that probably I'll need a few more experiences of playing with a lead."

As he talked, the pain etched on his face, you questioned why he had made the trip out here at all. No one would have blamed him had he quietly withdrawn to spend time in the bosom of his family, whom, he reported, had been "really supportive, really constructive".

But the youngster from Holywood is not one to shirk his responsibilities.

"It was never in doubt," he said half--convincingly. "I'm excited to get out playing again."

How he fares is anyone's guess. It does not help that he stepped off the plane into Malaysia's muggy heat yesterday to find that his clubs had not made it to Asia with him. He must have thought fate was conspiring against him until it emerged that those of his travelling companion -- and new Masters champion -- Charl Schwartzel had suffered the same fate. Both sets arrived last night on a separate flight, although it put paid to practice yesterday. McIlroy heads out with world No 1 Martin Kaymer and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee at 1.0 local time (5.0 Irish time).

Whatever happens, he said, he wanted to put what happened last week behind him. "It was basically one hole which ruined it," he recalled.

"Well, not ruined it as it was a great week and I'll look back with fond memories of the way I played. But the tee shot on 10 really knocked my confidence. It was like: 'Uh-oh, where did that come from?' From there it just spiralled out of control." A pause. "I won't let that happen again." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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