- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The first time Rory McIlroy recalls watching the Masters on TV was in 1996. And like any other 6-year-old already smitten with the game, he no doubt dreamed of being on that stage himself one day.

Sure enough, he was.

Only he didn’t play the role of his golfing idol, Nick Faldo, who rallied from a six-shot deficit with a 67 to win a third green jacket.

He was more like Greg Norman.

So perhaps it was only fitting that Norman, whose 78 in the final round of 1996 gets more attention than the two majors he won, was among the first to call the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland.

McIlroy turned a four-shot lead into a collapse that even Norman must have had trouble watching. The kid hit into the cabins, into the trees, into Rae’s Creek. He three-putted from 7 feet on one hole, four-putted from 12 feet on the next. He missed one last short putt on the 18th for an 80, matching a Masters record for worst score by a 54-hole leader.

Yes, they can relate.

“Don’t listen to you guys,” McIlroy said Tuesday when asked the best advice he received after the Masters.

He was smiling, because that’s what McIlroy tends to do in just about any situation. What made this tongue-in-cheek reply so interesting is that Faldo said something very similar to Norman when they embraced on the 18th green in 1996.

Norman and McIlroy found that playing the very next week was a tonic for getting over the ultimate hangover, although their itineraries were vastly different. Norman was two hours away at Hilton Head, McIlroy flew halfway around the world to Malaysia.

“I had a good chat with Greg Norman the week after, when I was in Malaysia, and he sort of said to me, ‘From now on, don’t read golf magazines, don’t pick up papers, don’t watch The Golf Channel.’ But it’s hard not to,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, you want to keep up to date with what’s going on. But you can’t let other people sort of influence what you’re thinking and what you should do.

“I’ve taken my own views from what happened a few weeks ago and moved on,” he said. “And that’s the most important thing.”

McIlroy could have done worse than reading about his performance at the Masters.

What resonated was not so much the triple bogey at No. 10 when his tee shot ricocheted between cabins, or the four-putt double bogey on No. 12 that effectively ended his Masters. Rather, it was the amazing graciousness with which he handled such a crushing loss.

He looked as if he wanted to hide on the back nine, when he shot a 43. He refused to run for cover when it was over, instead answering every question with disappointment, but not despair.

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