SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy buried his 2013 title drought in the most dramatic fashion at the Australian Open on Sunday and said he thought a largely frustrating season might just make him a more complete player.
The Northern Irishman had a brilliant 2012 but a change of equipment and some off-course legal distractions coincided with a slump in form that saw him slide from number one in the world down to number six.
On Sunday, though, the 24-year-old re-entered the winners’ circle when he birdied the 18th hole to snatch the title away from U.S. Masters champion and home favourite Adam Scott with the final stroke of the tournament.
“I think I’m more experienced, more patient,” he said when asked what he had learnt this year.
“Not getting as down on myself or not being as hard on myself because golf is a long career and you can’t have too many highs and lows in terms of emotions.
“You’ve just got to try and keep it on an even keel and I feel like I’ve done a better job of that this year as the months have gone past.
“You know you have to go through the lows,” he added. “And I’m not saying it was a low this year, it’s not like I plummeted off the face of the earth.
“I’m still sixth in the world so it’s not too bad. It’s not the level that I feel like I can play to but I feel I’m getting back there, so it’s very pleasing.”
McIlroy admitted to a little guilt at the manner of his victory, which came when Scott bogeyed the last to give up a one-shot lead in a tournament he had dominated.
Presented with his chance, though, McIlroy showed the nerves of a two-time major champion to drain a 10-foot putt and join the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as winners of the Stonehaven Cup.
“I thought worst case scenario I’d have a putt for a play off and then all of a sudden I have a putt for the win. I didn’t want to go extra holes,” he said.
“All I focused on in the putt was my routine. I didn’t do anything differently. I didn’t think about whether it was to win the Australian Open or whether it was to get the first win this year.”
After missing out on the U.S. PGA Tour playoffs, McIlroy arrived in Asia and said he immediately felt his game was improving.
He plays one more tournament at Tiger Woods’s World Challenge next week before embarking on his preparations for the 2014 season.
“I always said I just wanted to build some momentum for next year and I felt like I was doing that,” he said.
“The perfect scenario would have been a win before the end of the season and thankfully I was able to do that.
“I’ve still got one more tournament left to try and get that second win on the board.
“That was the only thing that was missing from this little stretch.
“I feel like I played well but just hadn’t quite gotten across the finish line and doing that today was very satisfying but doing it going up against one of the best players in the world right now is probably even better.”
Editing by John O'Brien