Rory McIlroy and the curative powers of defeat
Rory McIlroy practices at Trump Doral

Rory McIlroy practices at Trump Doral

Rory McIlroy has consistently said that his 2011 Masters meltdown was the best thing that ever happened to him. He might be more accurate in saying that it was his reaction to his closing 80 that day that made all the difference and led to him winning the US Open in his next major start.

Pádraig Harrington immediately pointed to McIlroy's post round interview as hugely significant and the man who conducted it, Peter Kostis, still believes it was crucuial for the player who now holds four majors and the world No 1 ranking.

Kostis recalled: “I was assigned Rory’s interview at the very last minute.

“Augusta is unique because I never get to interview the winner. I only get the guys who come close because only the winner goes to the Butler Cabin for the awards ceremony.

“I have had everybody who has come close and believe me it always pretty difficult, both for me and the player.

“I gave Rory the option. I said: ‘Rory I have been asked to interview you. Obviously I would understand if you were decline.’

“I told him I wouldn’t throw him under the bus. I know him reasonably well and I think he knew it isn’t our job to ask him aggressive questions right at the moment in time.

“All he said was ‘Right now all I need is a hug. Give me hug and we will do the interview.’ So I gave him a hug and we did the interview.”

McIlroy’s graceful handling of his defeat was one of the highlights of the week and a major contrast to the way Tiger Woods had reacted to finishing fourth on his comeback the previous year.

Kostis said: “The year before, I tried to give Tiger open ended questions that would allow him to say whatever he wanted to say.

“How do you feel about the week overall. I am giving him a chance to say, ‘You know what I was rusty but the fans were great, the tournament was great.’ He elected not to do that.

“No-one enjoys doing those interviews. Having said that Rory’s ability to man up and answer the questions openly and honestly and in a heartfelt way made it much more palatable experience.

“I think he handled it magnificently. I don’t think he could have handled it any better.”

McIlroy’s putting let him down that Sunday but he took steps to fix it and won the US Open by a record margin just 70 days later.

Kostis said: “The back nine was a shock for him but from my perspective watching the whole thing, Rory’s weaknesses as a player were exposed on that Sunday.

“By that I mainly mean his putting. He needed it to save him on those first two or three holes in order for him to calm down.

“He felt more pressure on the full swing becasue of his putting mistakes. That was genisis of the whole debacle. The thing I love about Rory is that he is a quick learner.

“He never seems to make the same mistake twice. He fixed his putting after what happened that day and went on to win the US Open.”

The morning after the 2011 Masters, Pádraig Harrington was still in awe of the youngster's interview with Kostis.

Pete Kostis interviews Rory McIlroy after his 80 at Augusta National on 20111

“I think he interviewed incredibly well afterwards," Harrington said. "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.”

McIlroy is the centre of attention heading to the Masters this year and rightly so. He's going for his third major win in a row and trying to complete the career Grand Slam.

It's heady stuff but he's taking it in his stride, which is no longer a surprise.

A remarkable player and an even more intruiging personality, he can look back at last week's missed cut at the Honda Classic and see it as a good thing.

He went home, didn't kick the cat — "If I had one, I would of (laughter).  No, saying that  that's animal cruelty, I don't do that, that's bad.  (Laughter) I'll retract that comment." — and got out to play in the wind and work on his draw.

He shot a 63 at Seminole on Monday to win the Member-Guest event and got a reminder that bad weeks can be good, such as Augusta 2011.

Q Some of the strongest lessons you've learned on the golf course, do they come more out of winning or from failures and can you give us an example? 
RORY McILROY:  Definitely from failures.  I don't really  I don't feel like you learn that much with your wins or success.  I think you learn about yourself and you learn that you can handle the pressure or you can do certain things under pressure that you mightn't have done before.  But definitely during your losses is where you learn the most.  I've always said that the last round at Augusta in ‘11 was a huge learning curve for me and I took a lot from that day, just how I approach final rounds, and especially when you're in the lead and there's a bit of pressure there.  But yeah, I think you learn a lot more from your mistakes, you always do, because you make a mistake and you try to make sure that you don't make it again.  That's sort of...
Q.  Do you win Congressional without the failure at Augusta? 
RORY McILROY:  No.  No way –
Q.  Maybe a different score -- 
RORY McILROY:  Yeah, maybe (laughter).  No, I put a lot of that win has to do with what happened at Augusta a couple of months previous.

Harrington's attitude during hard times was also a credit to him and while McIlroy is not close to the Dubliner, he clearly had an appreciation for what the senior man achieved at the Honda Classic.

"Yeah, it was great to see Pádraig win, after everything that he's been through, he said. "You know, it just shows like perseverance and working hard and just having the belief that things will turn around. 

"It was, it was great to see.  It was great to see him win.  It will get him into the Masters again and all that sort of stuff.  It was great to see. 

"I haven't spent that much time with Pádraig over the course of my career to be honest.  I've spent a little bit of time with him but when I was starting my pro career back in 2007 when I won the Silver Medal at Carnoustie when he won his first Open, and then watching Birkdale, and then Oakland Hills on TV when he won The Open and the PGA back to back, that was very inspiring.

"And I think that inspired a lot of, not just Irish golfers, but a lot of European Tour players, as well, gave them the belief.

"I know it gave GMac a lot of belief to do what he did at Pebble.  It had sort of a bit of a knockon effect, Pádraig doing that, and I guess me seeing GMac do what he did, and then I did it and having Darren see what we were doing and he went and won The Open in ‘11.

"I think that's where it all started for us.  Pádraig was the guy that sort of kick started that run of great golf by the Irish guys."