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Declan Lynch: Rory meets his Nellie with a loud thunk


At RTE, the champagne, as always, was on ice. It was just a matter of time before the corks would be popping and the "Irish eyes" would be "smiling". In fact, I sensed that the champagne had already been opened when I heard the odd mention of how Rory McIlroy "will" become the first Irishman to win the Masters if he retains his four-shot lead. Or how he "will" be the youngest winner since Tiger Woods if he stays ahead of the field.

I shuddered a little, when I heard that note of over-confidence, suggesting that Rory was about to claim his manifest destiny.

Rory is a genius. But he is also Irish, up to a point. And even Paddy at his most extravagantly brilliant does not carry a lead so lightly into anything, let alone into Amen Corner on the fourth day at Augusta.

Everyone is a body-language expert these days, but they seemed to take no notice of the fact that in the Southern heat, Rory was developing a hint of what can only be described as a farmer's tan -- a sign there that for all his million-dollar toys and his billion-dollar expectations, the kid is still sort-of Irish, with all the issues that arise from that condition.

And if I may venture into the area of fashion commentary, I felt that Rory's choice of attire for the day was a bit . . . well . . . a bit grey.

Apparently these things have some meaning. Or at least they have some meaning for Tiger Woods, which is all that counts.

Tiger has always sported a strong red and black ensemble on the last day of a tournament, perhaps feeling that it contributes in some way to his aura. Likewise, most of McIlroy's rivals last Sunday came out in bright, brash colours, shamelessly announcing their presence at the track.

But Rory with his charcoal grey was like the reticent Irish lad abroad on his first sunshine holiday, maintaining a discreet presence, keeping himself to himself.

It didn't look right, especially as Rory has so little to be reticent about. It wasn't the look of a man who was in the mood to dominate, even if he has the game to dominate the world for the next 20 years.

But it still got him through the front nine, little knowing that he was about to be plunged into another dimension, where even the body-language experts could not help him.

When his drive on the 10th hit that tree and landed in a place that no man has been before, and when he kept hacking it for six more shots including another one that hit a tree, I think that Rory went into shock, like something out of Tales of the Unexpected when a great pianist on the stage of the Carnegie Hall runs his fingers across the keys to play a little Beethoven, only to find that he's inexplicably playing Nellie the Elephant instead.

Every other expert spoke about McIlroy cracking under the pressure, but oddly, I feel that a lesser player might have survived the pressure of this one bad hole. For McIlroy though, who is a genius, the thought that he had suddenly been seized by the spirit of a really bad golfer, was perhaps too much to take.

It must have felt like he was in the grip of madness itself, to be playing this hole, or any hole, the way that some 24-handicapper would play it. Because if 24-handicap golf has a sound, it is the sound of ball hitting tree with a horrible thunk. And on the 10th at Augusta last Sunday, Rory McIlroy heard that sound of ball on tree not once, but twice. Most likely it induced such a darkening of the mind, for a few holes at least, it terrified him. Again I think of that pianist trying desperately to get back to his Beethoven, the panic rising inside him -- will he ever be right again?

Yes you'd probably miss a few putts, in that state.

But will Rory indeed ever be right again?

Not only his personal happiness, but the happiness of many Irish people who appreciate the finer things in life, depends on the answer to this question.

Certainly he revealed himself to be a really good loser, if not the best loser we have seen for a long time. When Greg Norman, a grown man, blew the Masters in his own unique style, at the press conference he still sounded a bit hysterical.

Rory by contrast seemed to believe genuinely that this could be put into perspective, that he would get over it.

But should he have been more outwardly devastated? Should he not be taking defeat as hard as Tiger takes it, giving short answers to the media hounds and following the wholly admirable Tiger line that if the golf authorities find your behaviour reprehensible, you are probably on the right track?

Luke Donald is a nice reasonable fellow, who could be found celebrating a chip-in on the last, as if he'd won something -- will Rory end up like that?

I don't think so. In fact, I think he'll win a Major before the year is out, probably the British Open. And that he will be as magnificent in victory as he was in defeat.

Sunday Independent