- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rory McIlroy was nine holes from a precocious major triumph at the Masters in April.

Instead, he secured a memory certain to stay with him in this week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.

The end-game at Augusta was Charl Schwartzel’s unexpected green jacket. But it was McIlroy who made the turn of the fourth round with a one-shot edge after entering Sunday with a lead before a forgettable finish.

Then came a misadventure at the 10th hole, a triple bogey featuring multiple trips into the rough and a shot that ricocheted off a tree. It triggered a substantial collapse; McIlroy shot 80 and finished tied for 15th.


Still, there were valuable lessons for McIlroy, who has since turned 22.

“No doubt, it was a great experience for me,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I took the positives from it from that week. There wasn’t many positives to take from Sunday. It’s hard. It’s the first time in that situation, and you’re going to feel the pressure a bit. I certainly did. I felt a little differently on the Sunday than I did the previous few days, but that’s natural.”

Indeed, even for someone who earned attention for his skill at a young age. He played his first professional event in 2005 at age 16, shot a 3-under 68 in his first round of a major (2007 British Open) at 18 and as a 21-year-old tied the record for low round in a major (63 at the British Open) and played in the Ryder Cup.

Contention at the biggest events has come with it. In 10 majors, McIlroy has third-place finishes at the 2009 and 2010 PGA Championship and the 2010 British Open. He also posted a top-10 two years ago at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Then there’s the Masters meltdown, which could ultimately serve him well in the long run.

“He’s very young,” said Ernie Els, who won the first of his three majors at age 24. “He’s still learning. He’s got all the talent in the world. He’s a future No. 1 without a doubt. First time I ever saw him, I thought ‘He’s incredible.’ And he is incredible. And he’s still learning. He made some mistakes there, and he’s still learning. He’s 21 years old; he’s not perfect. Nobody is perfect.”

And, it would seem, not burdened by a lost opportunity. McIlroy played in the Malaysian Open the week after the Masters and finished third. In his last start, he finished fifth at the Memorial.

McIlroy acknowledged he played quicker as his final round at Augusta disintegrated, and did plenty of analysis of how things unraveled and what could be improved in the future.

All that matters, then, is applying the lessons of that spring Sunday down the road — perhaps as quickly as this weekend.

“I think the more you get yourself into that position, the more you deal with it better,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s all I really have to do, just keep getting myself in those positions. Sooner or later, it’ll fall my way. When it does, I’ll have the memories and experience to fall back on when I get myself into positions like that again.”