Following another exciting week at Augusta National, the eyes of the golf world are on winner Adam Scott, and rightfully so. After a 2012 season which saw him come up just short (and often heart-breakingly so) in all four of golf’s major championships, Scott earned his first green jacket in a thrilling playoff over Angel Cabrera.
He’ll return to Australia a national hero, having undone the painful memories of countryman Greg Norman‘s own close finishes in the prestigious tournament. Of course, aside from Scott, there’s all the talk about the once-and-again No. 1, Tiger Woods. Should he have been allowed to play the weekend? What could have been if he hadn’t incurred the controversial penalty following Friday’s second round?
Somehow overshadowed by the week, however, is Rory McIlroy. No other player came into the 2013 season with expectations as high as the Irish superstar. In 2012, despite some rough weeks — including missing the cut at the US Open, which he had won by eight strokes the year before — no other player had the worldwide success that McIlroy produced.
Taking four titles on the PGA Tour, including his second major title at the PGA Championship, he narrowly missed a fifth victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, losing to Rickie Fowler. Splitting his time with the European Tour, he won both tours’ money titles and signed a lucrative new equipment deal, leaving Titleist for Nike.
Having spent several weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings, the comparisons to Tiger Woods had never been more dramatic.
So what happened to Rory this week at Augusta? Coming into this week, the golf world was focused squarely on one player — Woods. The winner of three tournaments in 2013 alone, Woods seemingly took all the pressure off the field.
McIlroy’s game even seemed to be coming back into prime shape following a second-place finish last week at the Valero Texas Open. Gone were the doubts about his new Nike gear or the questions about his withdrawal from the Honda Classic with “wisdom tooth pain”.
Simply put, the Masters seems to put a level of pressure on Rory that he cannot yet overcome. Following Friday’s second round, he seemed to be well in the hunt at 2-under-par. Then on Saturday, he shot 7-over 79, falling to +5 and completely out of contention.
It was nearly a mirror image of his 2012 campaign, which saw him shoot 42 on the first nine in that third round, with a similarly star-crossed Sergio Garcia as his playing partner. Two years ago, he led the Masters at the turn, only to completely collapse on the second nine on his way to a final-round 80.
Let there be no doubt: McIlroy is a superior talent and will certainly add more major championships and other accolades to his career highlight reel. He handled the disappointing results with the utmost class. “Now and then you’ll get a good bounce and it will all even out,” McIlroy told reporters following the tournament.
He followed, quite simply “that’s Augusta for you”. Indeed it is, Rory. But if he can show the determination and effort that let him follow his disastrous third round with a 69 on Sunday, perhaps he’ll be getting fitted for that green jacket in the not-so-distant future.