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Rory McIlroy's desire to emulate the all-time greats hasn't faded

By Deric Henderson

Rory McIlroy knows the feeling only too well. He fell apart at the Masters five years ago after going into the final round with a four-shot lead.

So he can empathise with a devastated Jordan Spieth and his cataclysmic fall which cost him his second green jacket. Men have looked more comfortable in electric chairs than the defending champion did when he slipped that famous piece of attire over the shoulders of the new winner, Danny Willett.

Spieth will reflect long and hard and it's far too early to assess the psychological damage that this will have inflicted - if, indeed, there is any.

McIlroy didn't look back in anger and despair, and quickly got over his collapse by going on to win the US Open later that year in 2011. That's the measure of the man.

The Masters, however, remains the one Major that has eluded him. At 26 there is plenty of time on his side to achieve the Grand Slam, but one wonders if the high public expectation and demands on him to deliver at Augusta National - nowhere else - are beginning to have an impact.

He will win there at some stage in the future. Of that there should be no doubt. He is so gifted and so focused with such a special and rare talent. His game remains in great shape and even though he doesn't believe so, there are a few lingering doubts about his putting technique.

He is always unfailingly courteous dealing with the media, especially the American journalists who can pose the most inane questions.

It must drive him to distraction at times but there he sits, responding eloquently, modestly and being as open as he can and is it really fair that this young sportsman should find himself under such pressure which at times must verge on intolerable?

McIlroy mostly deals with the interrogation process quite well, but interestingly he allowed his guard to drop slightly before departing the clubhouse on Sunday night - just hours before it was announced that next year's Irish Open, to which his charitable foundation is so heavily linked, will not be played at Lough Erne, a venue where he was so closely associated after turning professional in 2007.

The good folk of Fermanagh will be bitterly disappointed, especially one of the county's best known citizens, the First Minister Arlene Foster, but the decision to move elsewhere, most likely Portstewart, was always on the cards.

McIlroy and the European Tour will be acutely aware of her considerable annoyance after some tense and difficult exchanges in the last few months. But he had other things to occupy his thought process.

He admitted: "This is the one that I haven't won, and this is the one I want to win more than anything else. I won a Claret Jug (The Open). I won a Wanamaker (US PGA). I won the US Open, but this is the one I haven't got.

"Once I overcome that mental hurdle that I'm struggling with at the minute, then I know how to play this course. I've played this course well before and I can string good rounds together here. But it's just a matter of doing it."

That was a rare insight into his current state of mind. But what is there to worry about?

Every golfer goes through the same personal crisis of self-doubt when the confidence levels dip. Just ask Spieth.

He perhaps began playing too conservative, frightened of making too many mistakes instead of the free and easy style - not fast and loose - of which we are all so accustomed.

There will of course be the inevitable questions that our man has maybe taken his eye off the ball and is too pre-occupied with what's happening off the course.

Apart from all his company endorsements, his career earnings in the US are somewhere in the region of $48.5m. He lives in a fabulous 15,000 sq ft home in Florida worth almost $10m which he shares with his girlfriend, Erica Stoll.

He has won 26 professional tournaments, including 12 in Europe and 11 in the States, and even though his $230,000 winnings for finishing in tied 10th place last weekend is effectively pin money, McIlroy's desire, hunger and commitment to become one of the all-time greats remains as intense as it always was.

He is determined to reach the same heights at Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - not just having a good record, but an exceptional one.

And incidentally, Rory is just as happy knocking around with his set of close friends back home in North Down as he is relaxing when off duty at Palm Beach.

He hasn't won a tournament this year, but it's only a matter of time. Despite all the disappointment of his latest failed attempt, believe me his head is still in a good place, and he will return to Augusta next year all the better for it.

McIlroy is just that type of person. There is no need to panic.

Belfast Telegraph

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