One of the most riveting final rounds at the Masters left Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy dealing with bitter disappointment yesterday, although they each appear to have bright prospects going forward.
Woods, without a tournament win for nearly 17 months, looked like the Tiger of old as he charged into contention over the front nine at Augusta National on Sunday, banishing any thought he might be a spent force.
He may have stalled in his title bid after the turn as his putter cooled but his inspired form from tee to green, which sparked trademark Tiger roars across the course, suggested a 15th major victory could be on the immediate horizon.
Irishman McIlroy will almost certainly take longer to come to terms with his major heartache, having suffered one of the worst final-round collapses of all time in a grand slam event.
The 21-year-old, touted as a future world number one, led by four strokes going into the last day at Augusta National before tumbling out of contention with an eight-over-par 80 that was almost unbearable to watch.
Having produced remarkably mature golf well beyond his years over the first three rounds, McIlroy let a first green jacket slip through his hands as he missed several short putts early on before succumbing to a snap left hook. Yet the brave and honest way in which the Ulster prodigy faced up to the media after enduring one of his worst days on a golf course suggested he is a characterful player who will rebound.
Despite oozing disappointment, he did not dodge a single question. He openly admitted he had not handled the pressure of the final round very well but believed he would eventually emerge stronger for it.
European Tour chief executive George O'Grady felt the curly-haired McIlroy was capable of becoming just as inspirational a figure for golf as 14-times major champion Tiger Woods.
"Rory plays an exciting brand of golf," said O'Grady.
"His golfing brain is outstanding, he's got the most wonderful personality and he's unfailingly polite with everybody. Wherever he goes, he is incredibly popular with all age groups. I believe Rory has the potential to be as inspirational a figure as Tiger Woods still is."
McIlroy, who catapulted into the limelight with a stunning maiden US PGA Tour victory at last year's Quail Hollow Championship, was astounded by the messages of sympathy showered upon him after his Masters meltdown.
"Thank you to everyone for all your kind words and messages of support," he tweeted yesterday. "I'm a little overwhelmed! Very much appreciated!"
Almost to a man, his peers predicted McIlroy would return to the winner's circle in the big events once he had come to terms with his shocking last-day collapse.
"He's such a good player, he's going to win a major some time," said South African Charl Schwartzel, who lifted the green jacket with a birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie finish.
McIlroy, plunged into a golfing nightmare in only his third appearance at the Masters, can expect to re-emerge in much brighter light.