Graeme McDowell is backing Rory McIlroy to learn from his miserable Masters meltdown and win a wardrobe full of green jackets.
McIlroy, 21, endured a final round Augusta nightmare when he blew a four-shot lead with a closing 80 and ended up a lowly 15th. He has been the talk of world golf ever since with questions abounding about the Holywood star’s lack of putting prowess under pressure and his ability to close out tournament wins.
Those doubts have now been repeated following McIlroy’s failure to take advantage of a three-shot lead with 26 holes to play in the Malaysian Open on Sunday.
The doubters are crawling out of the woodwork, and who could blame them. But G-Mac hasn’t lost his faith in the young man he calls Wee Mac just yet. Quite the opposite in fact.
McDowell missed the cut in Augusta but made a flying visit back to the UK over the weekend to see his beloved Manchester United lose 1-0 to Man City in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
But before jetting back to the US to prepare for the start of an intensive run of six events in seven weeks, starting at Hilton Head on Thursday, McDowell reflected on McIlroy’s Augusta agony.
“I think he is an unbelievably talented kid and at the minute he is just learning how to win. And if he keeps putting himself up there, he will win,” McDowell said. “We’ve all seen Tiger Woods but this Rory McIlroy kid is one of the best players I have ever seen.
“It is all a learning experience and it will stand him in great stead for the future. All the greats say you have got to throw a few away before you learn how to win one. I said at the start of Masters week that Augusta is absolutely tailor made for him and I stand by that.
“He will not just win one Masters, he will win multiple Masters. I will say that right now.”
McDowell felt McIlroy’s Masters pain but while he didn’t see the third place finish behind Matteo Manassero and Gregory Bourdy in Malaysia, he still reckons it was a brilliant bounce back performance.
“I heard he doubled the 12th but I didn’t see the circumstances so I can’t really comment. But it sounds to me like Manassero won it as opposed to Rory throwing it away.
“To bounce back the way he did after Augusta and come straight back and lead that golf tournament and control it most of the weekend and then have Manassero win it from him, it says a lot about his character and his resilience.
“Obviously you want to close out tournaments but winning is dificult. It is a very very difficult thing to do because there is always somebody going out and shooting 65 in the last round of a tournament. He is just learning how to win right now and sometimes it hurts, but he will come out stronger the other side.”
McDowell watched McIlroy’s Masters misery from his couch in Orlando and suffered like any other golf fan rooting for a 21-year old greenhorn trying to win his first major.
“Thinking about switching my TV off,” he tweeted as McIlroy’s hopes sank in Rae’s Creek. “This just got ugly.”
The US Open champion accepts that McIlroy got off to a nervous start and made multiple mistakes. But he’s also convinced that his 21-year old friend was desperately unlucky.
Reflecting on the Masters disaster, G-Mac said: “I was very disappointed for him. I watched every shot on the Sunday afternoon. I really couldn’t see him losing it but it was one of those ones.
“He got off to a nervous start, I thought his second shot to one was overtly aggressive. Maybe he was nervous. You can’t go for that back pin on one, you can’t hit long and you can’t hit it left and he hit it long and left. Then what happened on two, that can happen to anyone.
“As the front nine progressed I still felt confident for him even though he missed a couple of short putts. When he birdied seven, I thought, ‘Here we go.’
“And he makes two great swings on eight and I thought he was unlucky to go over the green and have such a difficult up and down. To me, eight was the turning point. He hits it on the green and makes four there, I think he goes on and wins the green jacket.
“Instead, he hits it over the back, tough up and down, doesn’t convert, doesn’t birdie nine and then 10 was just a shocking break.
“Yes, of course, he hit a bad shot but to get a ricochet all the way over there was a really bad break and he makes triple there and the head starts to spin and, well, we have all been there. As I said to Rory, it is a learning experience for him. But it will stand him in great stead for the future.”