The County Down teenager showed over the last 36 holes that he’d put the travails of Friday’s less-than- fancy footwork behind him. It’s almost a given that he’ll win a green jacket one day, and many more majors besides.
However, I’d be with Christy O’Connor Jnr in thinking he’s perhaps in too much of a hurry to fulfil his potential. McIlroy arrived amid the Augusta Azaleas saying exactly what the press wanted to hear: that he was there to win and wouldn’t be afraid to if the opportunity presented itself. He should have just gone to enjoy himself: to look and learn from those who’ve been around the bend at Amen Corner so often.
Padraig Harrington, whose three majors don’t exempt him from the sort of crisis that resulted in a tournament-wrecking nine on the second on Saturday, put his compatriot’s lapse of composure the previous day down to “big tournament experience” – or rather his lack of it.
The youngster’s kicking/’smoothing’ of the sand after a fluffed bunker escape on the 17th – which he persuaded officials was part of his usual post-sand-shot routine – was a show of either ignorance or petulance that few club hackers would fall foul of. He’s admitted before that “I used to be quite temperamental. I broke a couple of clubs at 14, 15, put a couple of holes in bags. But I was never that bad. I didn’t lose clubs up trees.”
In every carefully-managed interview I’ve read, McIlroy has defended himself against accusations of arrogance or cockiness, not that any were levelled by the softly-softly questioners.
But I wonder. Maybe it’s an essential part of any would-be champion’s make-up. After all, the BBC’s Peter Alliss can see almost a conceit/disdain in the way Tiger Woods sullenly carries himself these days, in contrast to the media-friendly Harrington.
McIlroy, as a young man in a hurry, seems to have a confident side that, from a distance, isn’t always appealing. Why would his manager ‘Chubby’ Chandler have recently sought the advice of Alex Ferguson about handling young prodigies were he not ever-so-slightly worried that his client could experience too much too young?
In January of last year, when was barely 18 – by which time he was already driving a BMW complete with personalised number-plate – McIlroy declared: “I’m not afraid of speaking my mind. I know my ability. I have no problem in coming out and saying, ‘I am going to be one of the best golfers in the world in the next five years.'”
Last week he reiterated, “There is no reason why I can’t go out and win three, four or five events every year on Tour.”
Good luck to him. But he has a long way to go. It’s one thing shooting 31 on the way home when the pressure is off; another thing entirely when the heat is on. Ask Kenny Perry. He mightn’t be better but he’s 30 years older – and wiser.
Interesting to observe against the en vogue drive towards lean, mean golfing machines, that the three play-off contenders come Sunday night – namely, Argentine winner Angel Cabrera, and US Ryder Cup heroes Perry and Chad Campbell (admirable in their admissions of fallibility afterwards, particularly Perry whose sportsmanship towards the champion was remarkable) – were all members of what might be called the heavy-hitters club. Size doesn’t always matter.