Yes, it was Charl Schwartzel who won his first US Masters, and yes, it did appear that Tiger Woods could be close to getting back to his best, and yes, it was also sad that an Australian yet again failed to don a green jacket at the end of the 72-hole opening “Major” of 2011.
However, the biggest talking point from the tournament just has to be the shocking loss of confidence of Rory McIlroy, who started the final round four strokes clear after leading the tournament from day one but finished 10 strokes behind the winner in a tie for 15th place after carding a final round of 80!
McIlroy’s collapse was arguably worse than that of Greg Norman in 1996, when he gave away a huge six-stroke lead at the start of the final round to lose by an incredible five strokes to the eventual winner Nick Faldo.
In many ways, the "writing was on the wall" for how the final round would unfold from very early on, particularly when Schwartzel, playing in the penultimate pair, one ahead of McIlroy and Angel Cabrera, fluked a birdie on the first after a wayward second shot failed to find the green. That closed the gap to three shots, which became two after the Ulsterman dropped a shot at the same hole shortly after.
Schwartzel was not finished there; he chipped in for an eagle three at the fourth hole to close the gap further still, while others were also getting in on the act, particularly Tiger Woods. The 14-time “Major” winner fired an explosive front nine, which put him right in the mix with Schwartzel, Adam Scott, K.J. Choi and England’s Luke Donald, who between them formed an intimidating pack behind McIlroy, who was clearly losing his confidence.
Somehow the 21-year-old McIlroy remained one stroke in the lead at the turn, but disaster was to strike at the 10th, and it was a disaster that he would not recover from. His tee somehow hit a tree not 70 yards away and rebounded off the course, giving him no shot other than to hit the ball back onto the fairway, less than 90 yards away from the tee. Without putting too fine a point on it, McIlroy ended up with a triple bogey, and with that came the end of his dream and the start of his nightmare.
A total loss of confidence followed with his putter, where he missed several around the four-foot mark to save pars, but once he had fallen three shots adrift of the field, the TV cameras deserted him, and he was left behind a dazed and beaten man, while those going for glory were all up ahead.
McIlroy is a seriously gifted young golfer who most are predicting big things for. It was no surprise to see him leading such a prestigious tournament with such authority, and it would have been even less of a surprise to see him win, particularly from such a strong final day start position.
However, despite him playing his performance down, claiming that he will be back, perhaps what he should do is tidy up some of the weaknesses in his game, which were clearly evident. For one, he has no real fade in his shot repertoire, nor is he the greatest putter in the world. Pundits have been critical with the speed he uses when taking shots, accusing him of not thinking enough and not showing enough care and attention, almost hitting each shot with a degree of arrogance.
He also has to develop a much stronger mindset. When he came to the tee at the first hole in the final round, he looked edgy to say the least and looked a lot worse after he came off the first with a bogey. By the time reality had bitten, he was a spent force and clearly wanted to come off the course, but in fairness he stuck it out bravely, having accepted defeat long since.
He would do well to remind himself that Tiger Woods won his first "Major" aged 21 and in so doing never once showed the frailties displayed by McIlroy. Woods proved himself a true champion and as we all know has confirmed that all over the world in the 15 years since. Where will McIlroy be in 2026?
His next opportunity to win his first “Major” will come at the U.S. Open in June. It is a title that 12 months ago was won by McIlroy’s great friend and compatriot, Graeme McDowell. Can McIlroy emulate him? For the first 63 holes at Augusta, yes he can! The last nine, an emphatic no! Which McIlroy turns up at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD remains to be seen.