From Brian Keogh in Augusta
Rory McIlroy learnt some massive lessons at Augusta and came away convinced he doesn’t have to play perfect golf to win the Masters.
The teenager, 19, scorched home in 31 with six birdies in his last 10 holes to grab a share of 20th place on his debut after a closing 70.
And while he finished ten shots outside the play-off places on two under, he could see that he has the game to contend for a green jacket in the future after a traumatic week that saw him threatened with disqualification.
Tipped by leading European Graeme McDowell to win multiple majors, McIlroy said: “I feel I could have done better. I let a lot of shots slip on the back nine on Friday which I was definitely disappointed about.
“I was just trying to be too good. Trying to be too perfect. You have just got to accept that you are going to make mistakes in a major championship and get on with it.
“Hopefully that little 31 on the back nine will stand me in good stead in future Masters, maybe when I need one to win.
“Your first Masters is a bit of an eye-opener. You can see where certain shots finish and you will never stop learning about these greens.
"When I come back here next year I will know it a little better and do a little better as well. Hopefully I will be at the sharp end of the tournament."
McIlroy was bidding to emulate Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and win the Masters at his first attempt.
He failed to achieve his ultimate dream but did everything else Zoeller did, celebrating with his entourage in the famous TBonz Steakhouse on Washington Road where the American toasted his victory 30 years ago.
Reflecting on week that saw him grilled by Masters officials and then cleared of any wrong-doing in a bunker on Friday, he now knows that he can afford to make mistakes in majors and still win.
Still ranked 17th in the world, one place ahead of Masters winner Angel Cabrera, he said: “I played that back nine pretty well and shot 31. I think if I could play like that I could win this tournament.
“Maybe patience is the key, though I am patient anyway. On Friday evening I probably just got a little flustered — four putting 16 for double and then not getting out of that bunker on the last by trying to be too cute and making a triple."
McIlroy was energised by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as they made a final day charge for victory and was so excited that he toyed with the idea of following them on the back nine.
He said: “I looked up at the leaderboard and saw Phil got to nine after seven and was laughing thinking this would be great to watch on TV. I was saying to my caddie JP, I might walk a few holes with him it looked so much fun.”
McIlroy resisted the temptation but saw pal McDowell close with 69 to finish as the leading European contender in a share of 17th place on four under.
And McDowell is convinced that McIlroy will be a stronger player now after coming through the embarrassment of Friday night’s traumatic “Bunkergate” investigation.
McDowell said: “That was a fantastic performance by Rory to shoot 31 on the back nine. It was a great weekend for him.
"Obviously after the disappointments of Friday night and the scrutiny that he is under and I am sure he feels that despite the fact that the ruling went his way, he is always going to feel a little bit embarrassed about it.
“No one likes to be on the fence of the law, never mind the right or wrong side of it. I spoke to him in the locker room and he has got a great attitude to the game.
“He showed his talents again this week and the guy is going to win major championships. It is just a matter of time.”
McDowell didn’t see the footage of McIlroy swiping the sand with his foot after failing to get out of the bunker on the 18th as he finished with a triple bogey on Friday.
But he added: “He is not a bad tempered kid and I am very surprised to even hear it. I am glad they saw sense and came up with the right ruling.
“Maybe we can duel it out on the back nine here some day. But if I can hang with Rory for the next five or ten years of my career I will be happy enough.”