Rory McIlroy ready for Masters revenge

He’s the favourite to win this year’s Masters but can Rory McIlroy shake off the memories of 2011’s final round meltdown?

That’s the question everyone is asking as the Northern Irishman prepares to do battle with Augusta National again and many believe McIlroy has the mental strength to get it done this time.

The most compelling evidence that Rory will wipe the slate clean was the way he rebounded to win the 2011 US Open.

That record-breaking eight-shot triumph came less than two months after his Masters nightmare and proved that the hugely talented Ulsterman isn’t one to dwell on his bad experiences.

So can the 22-year-old Northern Irishman repeat the trick at Augusta?

“I’ll feel like I felt going into the US Open, that I’ll have something to prove and have a little bit extra motivation,” said McIlroy.

“And maybe a little bit of revenge as well, trying to make amends for what happened.”

For three days last April McIlroy looked poised to follow Tiger Woods as a 21-year-old Masters champion. Joint first-round leader with Alvaro Quiros after a 65, he went two ahead by adding a 69 and then four clear thanks to a Saturday 70.

“I haven’t had any trouble sleeping the last three nights, so hopefully it’ll be the same,” he told a packed press conference.

But Sunday was to prove very different.

He bogeyed the first, hit the lip of the fairway bunker on the long second and, with Charl Schwartzel chipping in at the first and pitching in for eagle on the third, he no longer led on his own.

It was on the back nine, though, that things went from bad to far, far worse.

McIlroy triple-bogeyed the 10th after hooking his drive and finishing in amongst the lodges, he bogeyed the 11th and then four-putted the short 12th for a double bogey.

Ninety minutes later it was all over – a round of 80, the highest of the day, and not just a defeat, but a massive one. He finished only 15th.

Many people tend to think Jean Van de Velde and Greg Norman have suffered the worst collapses in recent major history.

But in going from four ahead to 10 behind McIlroy had experienced a bigger crash than either of them.

“I have played with Rory a lot. When he gets under a bit of pressure he’s got a pull hook in his bag,” said Lee Westwood, who had himself lost a five-shot lead at Augusta the previous season.

Westwood has yet to break his major duck. McIlroy did it 10 weeks later – and how.

He triumphed at Congressional by an astonishing eight strokes, smashing the championship record score by four in becoming the youngest winner of the title since amateur Bobby Jones in 1923.

Jones was the co-founder of the Masters, but never won it in 12 attempts. McIlroy now aims to do that at his fourth try.

It will not be easy, though.

Four-time champion Woods may not have won since 2005, but he has not finished outside the top six in that time and that despite all that has been going on in his private and professional life.

Phil Mickelson has finished in the top seven 10 times in the last 13 years and at Pebble Beach in February thrashed Woods head-to-head by 11 shots to throw down the gauntlet as he seeks a fourth Masters victory.

Westwood and Luke Donald want to show that becoming world number one was just a stepping stone to major success, while amongst the other storylines is Schwartzel trying to become only the fourth player – after Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods – to retain the title.

But McIlroy’s return is especially fascinating.

“I’ll give it my best and prepare as best I can,” he said.

“I think it’s a course that sets up well for me and it would be great to have a chance going into Sunday and test myself and make sure that what happened last year won’t happen again.

“I feel like I have the length to take advantage of the par fives and my putting has become a lot more natural. I think that will help me at Augusta for years to come.”

What reduced the youngster to tears last year – they finally came when he spoke to his parents on the phone the following morning – was the feeling that he had choked.

Come the US Open he was driven by a desire “to prove to myself that I wasn’t this player that crumbles under the pressure”.

Now comes the Masters again. He cannot wait.