Forget the Sergio Garcia comparisons. Rory McIlroy will not be mentally scarred for life by what happened at Augusta National on Sunday. In fact, he’ll win plenty of majors.
Take it from a man who knows what it’s lke to see the face of the beast and live to fight another day - Padraig Harrington.
As he watched the Holywood star unravel in the final round, Harrington confessed that he was truly concerned for the youngster’s mental well being. But Harrington was so amazed by McIlroy’s mature, post-round interview that he had no hesitation in tipping the Ulster ace to win even more majors than he first imagined.
“I’ve had bad days but not of that magnitude,” said the man who had a quintuple bogey eight when one off the lead in the final round of the 2009 US PGA at Hazeline. “I think he interviewed incredibly well afterwards. His attitude was fantastic and he wasn’t even off the 18th green.
“In a week’s time he will have time to reflect and he will come through this. But straight away afterwards his attitude was already spot on. The attitude he had augurs very well for his future.
“When it was over, I think everybody was feeling for him. But after his interview I felt a lot better about it all because his attitude was spot on. At the end of the day, and I say this every week, there’s someone out there who shot 68 to finish top 10 and is running around delighted with themselves. But Rory learned far more than anybody else. He learned more than the winner.”
Before he won his third major in the space of 13 months at Oaklands Hills, Harrington almost blew the 2007 Open at Carnoustie when he found water twice at the 72nd hole but somehow earned a second chance and took it with both hands.
He later confessed he might have struggled to be a competitive golfer again had he lost, joking that he would have communicated with the world through the letter box in his front door.
No wonder he is impressed with the way McIlroy took his horrific collapse on the chin. In case you missed it, McIlroy had no problem recognising that he “unravelled” on the back nine to finish 10 shots behind the winner.
“Shooting a bad score in the last round of a golf tournament is nothing in comparison to what other people go through,” he told millions watching on television. “I didn’t handle it particularly well today, obviously, but it was a character building day and I will come out stronger for it.”
Gobsmacked by McIlroy’s maturity, Harrington said: “He has proved many a time that he is well capable of winning these things and I think even more so after Sunday. He will win plenty of majors going forward.
“If you took a poll before the week started and a poll now, I guarantee you people would expect him to win more majors now that they did at the start of the week. So he is in a better position now than he was last Monday.”
It was interesting to hear the Dubliner analyse McIlroy’s play in the final round and what he considered to be the major turning points.
Q. Augusta shows up any small weaknesses you might have and magnifies them, doesn’t it?
P.H. It does. And you have to remember as well, it is far harder to maintain a lead on a golf course where birdies are being made than on a course where pars are being made. Much, much harder.
Q. He wasn’t off the second green and his lead had gone.
P.H. That’s what I am saying. Charl Schwartzel started birdie-par-eagle and all of a sudden his lead is gone. Whereas if it was a tough golf course, you would normally start with a couple of pars and be okay. It is much easier to defend a lead on a golf course where everybody is defending. But it is very difficult to defend a lead on a course where everybody, who isn’t under the same pressure as the leader, can make birdies.
Augusta is the ultimate golf course where a guy playing well can make birdies and eagles and yet somebody under pressure, or not even under pressure, can make a double bogey with an errant shot. So it is comfortably the toughest course in the world by far to have a lead on. And it is probably the best golf course in the world to be attacking on.
Q. When the putts are not going in it just gets harder and harder. Could it have been a different story if he had holed that four footer at the first?
P.H. We will never know. If he holes the putt on the first, it could have been so different. We will just never know this. It is just impossible to tell what effect that had. But there is no doubt that life would have been a lot easier if he did hole the putt on the first hole from four feet. I think he played very well on the front nine. If he had holed a couple of short putts… He missed on one, three…
Q. He holed one on 7. What about the chip on 8? That was tough.
P.H. He was so unlucky on eight. His second shot was too good. It went through the green because it was just too good. Left or right, he would have dug into the bank a bit more. If he was further right he would have got the kick down onto the green, it would have held it up. Instead it pitched on the green and kicked forward. Things definitely didn’t go for him.
Q. On the 11th on Friday he gets a break with a ricochet from the left trees back to the fairway. He does something similar at the 10th on Sunday and he’s in the cabins…
P.H. It’s amazing on a Sunday, the winner does get the breaks. Things don’t quite fall into place. He came back so well on 11 with his drive and his second shot. He still had a chance of winning the tournament at that stage. But he needed a putt to drop. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you are or how you are playing, if you don’t get a couple of putts to drop to give you momentum…(voice trails off)
And 11, not holing for birdie on 11 and then not holing for birdie on 12 ….… On another day he would have holed that putt for birdie on 11, holed the one on 12, felt great going into 13. He could have won it at that stage. Ultimately it was not his day. It wasn’t his day but his attitude was brilliant.
Q. Is there something to be addressed in the putting? He is very good when he is confident but when the doubts creep in…
P.H. Aren’t we all? (Laughing). You know, Rory knows his own game and he works away diligently and I am sure he will continue to do that. [His putting] was very impressive up until the start of the last round. He hadn’t had a three putt and he will take confidence from that fact on a tough golf course like Augusta. Yeah, okay it came back on him in the last round but he got 54 holes out of it, well 63 holes, and he only needs to extend it another nine holes. That won’t be long coming.
Q. Not too many question marks in your mind then?
P.H. Put it like this: If you were to ask anybody in the game of golf would they swap positions with Rory McIlroy, there wouldn’t be too many saying no.