McIlroy and Woods still have reasons to be positive

April 12, 2011

GOLF-MASTERS/One of the most riveting final rounds at the Masters left Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy dealing with bitter disappointment, although they each appear to have bright prospects going forward.

Woods, without a tournament win for nearly 17 months, looked like the Tiger of old as he charged into contention over the front nine at Augusta National on Sunday, banishing any thought he might be a spent force.

He may have stalled in his title bid after the turn as his putter cooled but his inspired form from tee to green, which sparked trademark Tiger roars across the course, suggested a 15th major victory could be on the immediate horizon.

Britain’s McIlroy will almost certainly take longer to come to terms with his major heartache, having suffered one of the worst final-round collapses of all time in a grand slam event.

The 21-year-old, touted as a future world number one, led by four strokes going into the last day at Augusta National before tumbling out of contention with an eight-over-par 80 that was almost unbearable to watch.

Having produced remarkably mature golf well beyond his years over the first three rounds, McIlroy let a first green jacket slip through his hands as he missed several short putts early on before succumbing to a snap left hook.

Yet the brave and honest way in which the Northern Irish prodigy faced up to the media after enduring one of his worst days on a golf course suggested he is a characterful player who will rebound.

Despite oozing disappointment, he did not dodge a single question. He openly admitted he had not handled the pressure of the final round very well but believed he would eventually emerge stronger for it.

European Tour chief executive George O’Grady felt the curly-haired McIlroy was capable of becoming just as inspirational a figure for golf as 14-times major champion Tiger Woods.

“Rory plays an exciting brand of golf,” O’Grady told Reuters. “I think he can be inspirational to so many youngsters around the world on the back of the great young generation we have at the moment.

“His golfing brain is outstanding, he plays attacking golf when he needs to, patient golf when he needs to be patient, he’s got the most wonderful personality and he’s unfailingly polite with everybody.

“Wherever he goes, he is incredibly popular with all age groups. I believe Rory has the potential to be as inspirational a figure as Tiger Woods still is.”

McIlroy, who catapulted into the limelight with a stunning maiden U.S. PGA Tour victory at last year’s Quail Hollow Championship, was astounded by the messages of sympathy showered upon him after his Masters meltdown.

“Thank you to everyone for all your kind words and messages of support,” he tweeted on Monday. “I’m a little overwhelmed! Very much appreciated!”

Almost to a man, his peers predicted McIlroy would return to the winner’s circle in the big events once he had to come to terms with his last-day collapse at Augusta National.

“He’s such a good player, he’s going to win a major some time,” said South African Charl Schwartzel, who lifted the green jacket in scintillating fashion with a birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie finish on Sunday.

“Obviously things didn’t go his way. Golf is a really funny game. One moment you’re on top of it and the next it bites you. He’s such a phenomenal player. He’ll win one.”

British world number three Luke Donald, who chipped in at the last to tie for fourth with Woods and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, said: “My heart goes out to Rory, the best talent in golf in my opinion.

“I’m sure his closet will be stuffed with green jackets by the time he is done with the game.”

Fellow Briton Ian Poulter added: “Rory will be back in full force quicker than ever. It will be hard to take but it will make him stronger.”

Woods, who had been seeking his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open, knows better than most how Augusta National — with its lack of rough but notoriously difficult greens – can toy with a player.

“This golf course baits you,” the 35-year-old American said. “You can get aggressive, you can lose it. Very similar to what Rory (was) doing out there.

“That can happen very easily and it doesn’t take much. It’s just one shot here or there and it can go the other way.”

Woods has had to emerge from his own personal nightmare, his private life having unravelled in late 2009 amid sordid revelations of his marital infidelities.

His marriage ended last August, the same month in which he embarked on the fourth swing change of his professional career, but his revamped game now appears very close to his best.

McIlroy, plunged into a golfing nightmare at Augusta National on Sunday in only his third appearance at the Masters, can expect to re-emerge in much brighter light in the same fashion as Woods.

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