Rory McIlroy learned to be a major champion the hard way after his 2011 meltdown. Here are just five of those lessons learned
Rory McIlroy didn’t let one of the most famous collapses in recent Masters history define him. The four-shot lead he surrendered in the final round at Augusta in 2011 included four bogeys, one double-bogey and one triple.
Over the past four years that kind of disaster has seemed less and less likely to happen. With four majors since that day, including two in a row last year (2014 Open Championship and 2014 USPGA Championship), McIlroy must have learned some serious lessons. Here are five of them.
1. How to close out a result: McIlroy’s lead heading into the final round at the USPGA Championship last year was slighter than it was at the Masters of 2011, but he was to endure a final round of similar pressure. With Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson hunting the Northern Irishman’s one-stroke lead with vigour, McIlroy responded in the way we’re coming to expect of him.
Having lost his lead and even falling three shots back at one stage, McIlroy continued his efforts to stop his crumbling at Augusta forming any sort of precedent. Instead he learned from it and used his experience to secure a one-stroke win. He also negotiated a final round six-shot lead at last year’s Open to win by two, with Sergio Garcia and Fowler on his tail. The closing woes on the big stage are no longer a demon he has to contend with.
2. What it takes to stay at the top: A weaker mentality might have seen a lesser player suffer a mid-season slump, or even a permanent one, after his four-shot surrender. Instead, McIlroy secured his first major at the U.S. Open just two months later. Three more majors followed, with McIlroy having recently surpassed his run of 13 consecutive tournaments as No. 1.
3. How to turn off-course pressure into putts: There’s been no shortage of off-course events in Rory McIlroy’s short career that have could have derailed him. Maintaining a significant lead at the Masters won’t prepare you for the harsh realities that befall everyone off the course, but it’s the only other environment from which McIlroy could learn about pressure.
You could make a cogent argument for the events of the 2011 Masters helping McIlroy in moments of pressure. Whether it’s the split from girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki or his legal proceedings with former management company Horizon, McIlroy has always responded the right way.
After his public split from the Danish tennis player last year, he won at the BMW Championship at Wentworth. With legal proceedings involving Horizon coming to a close earlier this year, McIlroy won by three shots in Dubai. Living with the weight of the world on your shoulders professionally must help with the stresses of day-to-day living.
4. Amen Corner will take a while to master: There’s certainly more to Augusta than Amen Corner, but McIlroy could do with getting to grips with one of the most famous sections of golf course around. Over four rounds in 2011, he made three birdies around holes 11, 12 and 13, but also made two bogeys and one double-bogey.
McIlroy is yet to get a score under par over the course of four rounds when navigating Amen Corner since 2011. If he wants a blueprint to follow, then Bubba Watson’s performance around the the three holes last year is the one to look at. Watson didn’t drop a shot around Amen Corner during his four rounds and duly secured his second Green Jacket. McIlroy’s mastered plenty since 2011, but Amen Corner is still there to be conquered.
5. The gym work pays off: Nobody would have begrudged McIlroy a Masters win in 2011, but even he might be pleased that any celebratory photos taken next week will have him looking far more toned than four years ago.
His time in the gym has made him look a stronger athlete when prowling the course; he even features on the cover of the new issue of Men’s Health. McIlroy is now regarded as a true athlete, with much of the promotional work for the Masters playing on his time in the gym, including the new videos from Bose and Nike. Such is the emphasis on his workouts, it’s hard to imagine McIlroy ever slipping into the figures of Miguel Angel Jimenez or Kevin Stadler.
It would be naive to think that being in slightly better shape at the 2011 Masters would have made a significant impact on McIlroy’s efforts to win. However, the extra hours pumping iron will do him no harm at Augusta this week.