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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

As Masters loser, McIlroy became a winner

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a tee

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament. (April 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images


Rory McIlroy was full of regret and deeply embarrassed.

His cellphone had just gone off during a news conference at the Masters, right when he was in the middle of baring some more of his soul and talking about his infamous meltdown during the final round last year.

McIlroy was saying that it had been "such a blur" that he could not remember the haunting details when suddenly, there was an insistent piercing beep. "Oh, sorry, phone's going," he said, reaching into his pocket to turn it off. Then, acknowledging one of the principal rules for the week, he added, "No phones at Augusta!"

Then, while his audience laughed, he went on talking about an episode that had knocked him out of the lead in 2011, yet which did not leave him regretful or embarrassed. His crushing fall last April made him better.

McIlroy said Tuesday that he learned a lot from that triple-bogey 7 on No. 10, begun by an amazingly bad drive that caromed near the cabins way left of the fairway. "One of the things I learned was that, as a person and as a golfer, I wasn't ready to win the Masters," he said.

At the ripe old age of 21, he also learned that even the best golfers lose way more than they win. And even a young man who had earned enough to buy a huge estate and a fancy car needs to learn how to gracefully lose.

"It wasn't the end of the world," he said Tuesday.

McIlroy had been just a kid for most of that week, hanging around with buddies from Northern Ireland, getting yelled at by neighbors near their rented house for making too much noise as they threw around a football at night.

He got the collapse out of his system during a Monday morning phone call with his mom. "It was the first time that I had cried in a long time, about anything," he said.

Tuesday, he was laughing. He joked about the first time he came back this year for a practice round and walked the 10th fairway. "I can't believe how close the cabins are, they are only 50 yards off the tee," he said, adding that he had watched the video and saw that he hadn't been himself all day. He had been walking with his head down. "I was very insular," he said.

Golfers, and other people, screw up. The smart ones take their lumps and move on. "He just had one bad round. It happens to everybody," Tiger Woods said. "It was cool to see someone learn from their mistakes like that."

McIlroy benefited from all kinds of support, including a call from Greg Norman, king of Masters collapses. The young man knew about Norman's hard losses in 1996 and 1987, referring to the latter as 1986. "Sorry, I wasn't born [yet]," he said.

McIlroy was a grown-up by last June and his next major championship, the U.S. Open. That time, he blew away the field and hugged a big trophy, better for having lost.

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