McIlroy on the Masters: "I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on"

Within minutes of completing his media interview at Quail Hollow, Rory McIlroy was out on the practice putting green with Dave Stockton, the short game expert.

The 69-year old, two-time US PGA champion later confirmed that the pair began working together on Monday. Not that you would have known that after listening to McIlroy’s 15-minute chat with the press ahead of his defence of the Wells Fargo Championship.

There wasn’t much of a hint in the press conference that he’s actively making changes to his short game technique, possibly his putting.

His disappointing final round at Augusta was at the top of the agenda, of course, and the world No 6 patiently explained what went wrong. It all boiled down to the patently obvious - he just didn’t have the experience to get the job done.

“I don’t think I was ready,” he said. “That was the most important thing. I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on.”

McIlroy never said exactly what his weaknesses were unless he was referring to his lack of ringcraft when leading a major in the final round. 

He never spoke of the short putt he missed at the first, the failed escape from the bunker at the second or the missed putts inside six feet at the third and fifth that put him under intense pressure.

Instead he spoke about making a major mistake in trying and defend his four-shot lead rather than extend it and that his tendency to rush when under the kosh was exacerbated by the equally speedy play of playing partner Angel Cabrera.

When asked about the best piece of advice he had received since he shot 80 in the final round, he pointed to a chat with the Great White Shark Greg Norman in Malaysia the week after the biggest final round collapse since the Australian’s 1996 loss to Nick Faldo.

Unlike Faldo, the man who erased Norman’s six-shot lead to win by five shots that week, the Australian’s words of comfort didn’t include the phrase “don’t let the bastards get you down” in refernce to the press.

But it was close.

“Don’t listen to you guys,” said McIlroy, who receives Google Alerts when he his name is mentioned on the internet.  Perhaps he’s unsubscribed now after his heart to heart with the two-time Open champion.

“I had a good chat with Greg Norman the week after when I was in Malaysia, and he sort of just said to me, don’t — from now on, don’t read golf magazines, don’t pick up papers, don’t watch The Golf Channel.

“But it’s hard not to. Obviously you want to keep up to date with what’s going on. But you can’t let other people sort of influence what you’re thinking and what you should do.

“I’ve taken my own views from what happened a few weeks ago and moved on, and that’s the most important thing.”

McIlroy deserves great credit for the way he took his Masters disappointment on the chin and moved on with his life and his career.

“It was a great chance to win a first major, but it’s only golf at the end of the day,” he said. “No one died. Very happy with my life, very happy with what’s going on, very happy with my game. You know, so I’m looking forward to this week.”

Addressing the real reasons why he didn’t win the Green Jacket, he added: “I don’t think I was ready. That was the most important thing. I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on.

“But I think you’ve got to take the positives. For 63 holes I led the golf tournament, and it was just a bad back nine - a very bad back nine - that sort of took the tournament away from me, I suppose.

“But what can you do? There’s three more majors this year and hopefully dozens more that I’ll play in my career.”

More often than not, it’s  easier to chase than defend and McIlroy certainly found it easier to shoot 62 in the final round at Quail Hollow last year than to defend a four-shot lead in the final round of the Masters.

“At Augusta I was just trying to stay ahead of the field, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good thing,” he explained. “I just should have gone out and played my game, said, right, if I play well today I’m capable of shooting 65 around this golf course and winning by ten.

“But that’s not the way it worked out, and that’s experience. That’s just learning to be in that position more often, and hopefully I’ll be able to get myself in those positions more often in my career.

“Sooner or later it’s going to happen where it finally clicks and I’m able to handle it, handle the whole thing a lot better and win.”

When it comes down to a question of protecting a lead or trying to get away McIlroy had no doubts.

“I don’t think you can protect a lead, you’ve just got to go out and play and make birdies and let the guys catch you.”

While he made no mention of his short game mistakes or his new links with Stockton, McIlroy explained that some of his Masters problems were caused by “rushing” under pressure.

“No, it wasn’t my swing,” he said, possibly referring to the tee shot at the 10th that hit a tree and resulted in a triple bogey seven. “I hit the ball really well that week, the best probably I’ve ever hit it. It was more mentally more than anything else, just trying to handle the situation better. Not rushing.

“I played with [Angel] Cabrera on the last day and we’re both pretty quick players, and at points we were waiting on shots and stuff.

“Just stuff like that you learn how to deal with. Hopefully I’ll deal with it better the next time that I’m in one of those situations.”