The story was different, but the outcome remained the same. Rory McIlroy let a terrible nine-hole stretch define his Masters performance and raise more questions about the inconsistent play that has marred his 2013 season.
McIlroy didn't earn his first green jacket as many had hoped; instead, he finished the weekend two over and tied for 25th, 11 strokes behind champion Adam Scott.
The world’s No. 2 golfer got off to a mediocre start on Thursday, falling victim to Augusta’s difficult greens, which seem to manufacture new breaks and hidden perils with every round. With a three-putt on No. 12, McIlroy fell back to even par and would find himself at the same position by the time he walked off No. 18.
It got better on Day 2, though, as the 23-year-old fired a 70 to move to two under for the tournament, in prime position to make a push on moving day.
And then it happened, just as it did in 2011 and several times since.
After escaping Augusta’s brutal front nine at one over on Saturday, McIlroy hit the turn still very much in contention. The turn hit back, however, providing him with a triple bogey on the infamous start to Amen Corner at No. 11. A double bogey crept up at No. 15 (a hole that yielded plenty of low scores this year), and just like that, McIlroy was out of contention.
A final-round 69 was a good sign, but the damage had been done. The world No. 2 played like the 25th-best golfer at Augusta, and he’s back to searching for some answers.
Sometimes, the easiest answer is as simple as not asking the question.
Confidence plays a huge factor in golf—perhaps as much as with any sport at any level. As soon as a golfer begins questioning his or her ability or talent, the ball of yarn begins to unwind. That thought process becomes a slippery slope.
McIlroy is the world’s No. 2 golfer for a reason. At 23, he has already shown the ability to beat anyone on any course, taking down two major tournaments in the process. Following through on that ability hasn’t always been a consistent practice, but there’s no denying his talent.
For McIlroy to have a successful year on the course, he has to bury the memories of bad holes and mishits and the bad breaks that seem to make them worse. It takes a short memory to be a successful golfer, especially at a course like Augusta National.
There must be a delicate balance between a short memory and carelessness, though. The latter is what leads to repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but it’s often hard to find the middle ground between shrugging off a bad bounce and ignoring why you were in a position to let that bounce ruin your round.
To be successful this year, McIlroy simply has to reflect, learn and let it go. He has all the talent in the world, and as long as he continues building on that talent with hard work and focus, no round—no matter how bad—should keep him from winning repeatedly in 2013.
Of course, it’s still very early in the year, and there’s plenty of golf to be played. The Masters provides a platform that tends to magnify every triumph and tribulation, but there’s still something to be said for the lack of consistency we’ve seen from McIlroy this year. There certainly needs to be a change.
Perhaps Augusta will be a wake-up call for the 23-year-old as he ventures into the rest of the PGA Tour season. McIlroy played well enough for three rounds to win the tournament, and as long as that’s what he focuses on going forward, there’s no reason to believe he can’t add to his major tournament resume this year.