Rory McIlroy must learn to master Augusta
Despite what the bookies would have us believe, golf tournaments rarely work out according to the form book.
The 2012 Masters was meant to be a showdown between the resurgent Tiger Woods and the pretender to his crown Rory McIlroy.
Of eventual winner Bubba Watson or Louis Oosthuizen, the man he beat in the sudden-death play-off, there was not a whisper.
Even when Woods was in his prime he lost far more often in the Majors than he won. And even if he does go on to beat Jack Nicklaus record of 18 he will have won less than a quarter of the Opens, Masters and PGAs he plays.
It’s the nature of the game and McIlroy knows that as much as the next man so there will be no drastic changes in his approach for the three remaining majors of the season.
Naturally he was frustrated at his performance at the Augusta National last week and he knows he could and should have acquitted himself better.
“It was a disappointing weekend, just one of those things,” he said on Sunday evening.
“I played pretty well over the first couple of days and then just came out on Saturday and didn’t have it that front nine and that sort of killed me for the rest of the tournament.
“But I’ll come back next year and try my best again.
“I’ll take a couple of weeks off, reflect and think about anything that I tried to do that I didn’t do and try and get back at it and prepare for the US Open.
“That’s one I really do try to get myself up for, Just got to go to San Francisco and try to get another major.”
Those preparations really should include playing a tournament or two in the run-up to his defence of the US Open at the Olympic Club in June.
Nicklaus and Woods both arranged their entire season with the express aim of peaking on the four weeks of the year which coincided with the Majors — and that didn’t include taking a three-week break beforehand as McIlroy did before going to Augusta.
He is still only 23 and has years to work out the best way of making sure he is both physically and mentally tuned in for the biggest events.
It was his mental attitude, particularly on Saturday when the putts suddenly began refusing to drop, that will be harder to address.
McIlroy’s body language was, frankly, far from good at the weekend and he could do worse that look at the likes of Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and quite a few others who all suffered sticky patches at Augusta but kept going to the 72nd green.
Even playing with Graeme McDowell on Sunday could not inspire the Ulsterman.
Both were marooned on two over par on Sunday morning with no chance of the green jacket, yet the Portrush man came in with his lowest ever round at the Masters – a 68 – and ended up in a tie for 12th which will do his world ranking no harm at all.
“In a funny way the roars and the cheers going up around do energise you,” the former US Open champion said. “There is something fun about laughing and joking with the crowds as another bomb goes off and another hole-in-one goes in.”
Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, will surely compete in many more Majors and there are plenty of other outstanding young players determined to thwart McIlroy’s ambitions of adding to his US Open title.
Which leaves players like Darren Clarke, now well the wrong side of 40, struggling to keep up.
Ooshuizen may have lost out to Bubba Watson in the play-off, but on the greens he was nerveless all day, holing putt after putt. That’s where Clarke, as solid as ever from tee to green, falls down and once again after struggling to a second round 81 to miss the cut he was lamenting his inability to get the ball in the cup.
His Open win last summer has given him a 10-year exemption into the majors — that’s 38 more chances — but more realistically it looks as though Royal St George’s last summer will be the swansong to his magnificent career.