Rory McIlroy would never claim to be one of golf’s masters tacticians but with four majors on his mantelpiece, he could become an even more frightening figure if he matures like Padraig Harrington and learns to read the game as well as he plays it.
The Dubliner went through a huge learning curve before he turned those 29 second places into major wins and while McIlroy’s loss of a three-stroke, 54-hole lead in the WGC-Cadillac Championship can be blamed on an over-conservative strategy, anyone who was on the grounds in Doral will tell you it wasn’t all that easy to tiptoe past the Blue Monster without getting bitten.
Learning to read a situation, the conditions or the opposition is part and parcel of becoming a master golfer and McIlroy is not far away from becoming the complete package.
Charged with squandering a four-shot lead during a breezy final round at Trump National Doral, the 26-year confessed that he was not aggressive enough and did not do enough damage on the par-fives.
He also said he didn’t trust himself enough and that says it all about where he is with his game with the Masters three weeks away. He simply didn't play his best golf on the final day and whether that was a consequence of pressure or a simple quirk of the game, only he knows.
“I probably could have been a little more aggressive but it was hard,” McIlroy said ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Wednesday.
“The wind, it was a tough day, tricky. But if I had to have the round over again I probably just would have trusted myself a little bit more and took on a couple more flags and try to give myself some more birdie opportunities... Three bogeys on a day like that wasn't too bad but to only make one birdie I felt was my downfall and if I had to take it back, I would have played a little bit more aggressively."
Learning when to be aggressive and when to play safe is an art form that applies to every sport and it took Harrington the first half of his career to learn it.
Speaking in New Delhi, where he is playing in the Hero Indian Open, the 44-year old admitted that while Tiger Woods was his toughest opponent, he didn’t try to beat him but concentrated on beating the course and letting Woods worry about trying to beat him.
“It has to be Tiger (Woods)," Harrington said when asked the toughest player he played against. "I have played quite a bit against Tiger, and it was competitive. When I was playing against him, I always thought I would play my own game and concentrate on it and then make him beat me rather than trying to beat him.
"And thought that if he would beat me, I would shake his hand and say, ‘Well done.’ But you would be surprised how close you can get concentrating on just your game.
"I would be nervous, but I would not change my game. A lot of guys, when they compete against players of that stature, try to play above themselves and usually fail.
"Often, with remarkably good players, if you give them the impression that you’ll hang in there till the last, they are not used to that. They are used to opponents fading away trying to press too much too early.”
Harrington added that learning to understand your instincts is a crucial weapon.
"Experience is massive in this game," he said. "You have got to be able to read how you are feeling, how the course is playing and how your opposition is feeling, and that comes from experience.”
McIlroy has another chance this week to get a win under his belt before the Masters. Adam Scott is going for his third win in a row and when asked about the Australian's golden run and the importance of confidence and momentum, the Holywood star could see the funny side.
"I played the last round in L.A. with Adam. I played the third round at Doral. He's playing, very very well. He seems very confident with his overall game.
I think this -- I think we should bring the anchor putting back (laughter). I was all for getting rid of it. Now I'm all for keeping it."