Sport Golf

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Rory falls with amazing grace

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy is often lauded for being unaffected by his success on the world's professional fairways and the many millions of euro in cash it has brought him.

Yet it was in by far his darkest hour on Sunday evening at Augusta National that this 21-year-old from Holywood, Co Down, soared even higher in the estimation of the golfing community.

In a world which has become used to seeing sports superstars throwing their toys out of the pram at even the slightest prompting, how refreshing it was to see McIlroy handle himself with such dignity and grace after a truly crushing ordeal.

McIlroy stood tall in the media glare minutes after completing his nightmarish final-round 80 and calmly discussed how he'd led by one through 63 holes at Augusta National and then frittered it all away.

The youngster's implosion under the mind-warping pressure of leading for the first time on Sunday at a Major championship underlined the enormity of a 21-year-old Tiger's achievement in running away with the Green Jacket at Augusta National in 1997.

It also lends further emphasis to the mental and physical effort it took for Padraig Harrington at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie and Graeme McDowell in the US Open at Pebble Beach last year to make their breakthrough on the Grand Slam stage.

Insisting his day "just unravelled" after a wayward tee shot sparked that shocking triple-bogey seven at 10, McIlroy went on: "I think that's what Sunday at a Major can do.

"This is my first experience of it and hopefully the next time I'm in this position I'll be able to handle it better."

McIlroy's remarkable maturity in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's catastrophe suggests he should be able to do precisely that.

Yet there are lessons which must be learned if McIlroy is to take full advantage of the phenomenal ball-striking skills which helped put him four strokes ahead of the field after 54 holes.

For example, no longer can there be any doubts about his problems with the putter. McIlroy's stroke is fine most of the time but he does not putt with conviction under pressure and his faith in his ability to read the line is also suspect.

To some extent, McIlroy was unfortunate when his overnight lead was whittled to nothing by winner Charl Schwartzel before he'd walked to the tee at three.

The South African's chip-in birdie at the first and 114-yard pitch for an eagle-two at the third could not have contrasted more starkly with McIlroy's nervy start.

The young Ulsterman missed a five-foot putt for par at the first and another of similar length at three after he'd gone remarkably close to emulating Schwartzel's eagle with his approach.

After Schwartzel three-putted the fourth and McIlroy landed a nice birdie at seven, he was leading by one as he walked to the 10th -- yet the pressure he was feeling showed in his pulled tee shot.

Pressure

The subsequent triple-bogey seven put even further pressure on McIlroy's putting and his fumbling efforts on the green at 11 and 12 made that hooked drive into Rae's Creek at 13 all the more inevitable. He was locked in a vicious vortex.

McIlroy needs help. Whether it's many more hours on the practice green working on the mind-numbing but essential drills prescribed by Dr Paul Hurrion, or the recruitment of a mind-guru capable of instilling in the youngster the trust and self-belief he so sorely needs.

Caddie JP Fitzgerald was utterly blameless on Sunday and could have done nothing to prevent McIlroy's implosion. However, it still must be asked if 'The Kid' might be better served by someone he'd trust with his life when it comes to the issue of reading putts.

As McIlroy's agent Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler once said, if Fitzgerald "is not the best caddie in the world, he's the best caddie for Rory". That may be the case but every question should be posed and answered in the effort to make last Sunday's experience worthwhile.

Clear thinking and firm action is required. When asked how McIlroy might best recover from this reverse, Chandler replied: "He knows there's a problem. It's not an insolvable problem, but I don't know what the problem is."

Irish Independent

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