Less than four years after failing to realise in The Open at St Andrews that 75 was a good score, Rory McIlroy has finally learned the virtue of patience.
But as he headed into last night’s third round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship just one stroke off the lead, the former world number one admitted that he’s still “anxious” to win on the PGA Tour for the first time in almost 18th months.
“I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't anxious to get it, but you know, at the same time, I realise I have to stay patient to get it,” McIlroy said in Miami. “So it’s just a matter of managing your emotions and your expectations and your anxiousness and just trying to put all your energy into the round of golf that you play and know that four rounds of good golf are going to add up to maybe a win.”
With the Masters Tournament just a month away, the 24-year old knows there’s nothing like heading to Augusta National with the reaffirmation of a victory.
And yet he’s clearly learning all the time, especially on those wind ravaged days when perfect golf is impossible and only the smart survive.
He fatally made that mistake at the Home of Golf in 2010 when he became the 24th man to shoot 63 in a major on a windless opening day.
He led by two from eventual champion Louis Oosthuizen but when howling gales swept the Home of Golf on Friday, he ballooned to an 80 and went on to finish eight shots behind the South African.
It was a similar tale the following year at Royal St George’s but in winning the 2012 US PGA at a windswept Kiawah Island, McIlroy finally learned the art of interpreting the true difficulty of a course and what might be a reasonable score.
“I took a lot from Kiawah Island in 2012, that Friday afternoon was really blowy,” he said of the week he won his second major by eight shots. “I dug in that day and shot 75. What I have to realise is that on days like that you are not going to make a lot of birdies, you are not going to light it up.
“It’s about making as many pars as you can and realising that the guys out there are all going through the same as you; struggling to make birdies, finding it tough on the greens. It is really just a patience thing.
“You have to realise that even if you make a few bogeys, you are not really losing ground on the field. You learn not to get frustrated with yourself.”
On Friday at the revamped Blue Monster, McIlroy went out in four over 40 and then frustratingly three-putted for a par-five at the 10th.
Four years ago he might have gone on to shoot another 80 but he dug deep, and came home in a joint best of the day 34.
“That’s really what I have found when I come across these days, nobody is going to go out and shoot 66 or 67,” he said of his 74. “I was two lower than the average score on Friday, which must mean I played okay.
“Why am I better than before? Just experiences and learning from those experiences. I learn from what I did well and what I didn’t do so well in the past.
“You can’t let the conditions affect you too much because everyone is going through the same thing.
“If you don’t get frustrated then it probably means you are doing better than the guy who is out there and is getting frustrated.”
It’s a philosophy he believes can help him in the majors and especially at Augusta, where he has yet to string four good round together.
“A major is a major and they are the biggest tournaments you have but you should never put so much importance on any one round or any one shot, any one hole.
“If you do that, all of a sudden you have a couple of bad holes and you’ll feel in the depths of despair. I’d almost love to treat a major like any other tournament, it just is impossible with all the hype and atmosphere.
“Things happen, 72 holes of golf is a lot and a lot can happen. A lot can happen in the back nine; look at the Honda, I had a four shot lead at one point and all of a sudden it was gone.
“Things can happen, I have been on the right side of it and the wrong side of it. You have just got to stay patient.”