AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy is living proof that time has a way of healing almost everything.
Three years ago, McIlroy was reduced to tears when he blew his chance of winning the Masters after a spectacular final-round collapse.
Leading by four shots at the start of the last day, McIlroy closed with an 80 that included a triple-bogey on the 10th hole that sent him tumbling out of contention.
The following day he burst into tears when he spoke to his mother on the telephone.
“That’s probably the only time I’ve cried over golf,” he recounted at a news conference on Tuesday. “Blowing a lead in the final round of the Masters, because you never know if you’re going to get that opportunity again.
“It makes it easier these days when you have two majors in the bag. Not that you don’t care as much, but it’s not the end of the world. You know that you will have more opportunities, and you’ve taken a couple of opportunities already.”
It was a humbling experience for the Northern Irishman that shattered his confidence and raised doubts about his ability to handle the suffocating pressure of Augusta National.
In five appearances at the Masters, McIlroy has yet to finish in the top 10 but the 24-year-old is starting to regain his faith, believing that his meltdown three years ago could ultimately help him win that elusive green jacket.
“I have no ill feelings towards 2011. I thought it was a very important day in my career. It was a big learning curve for me,” he said.
“I don’t know if I had not had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it.
“I learned exactly not what to do under pressure and contention, and I definitely learned from that day how to handle my emotions better on the course.”
McIlroy instantly healed some of his wounds when he won the 2011 U.S. Open then the 2012 PGA Championship but the Masters has proved elusive.
He finished 40th at Augusta National in 2012 and 25th last year. But returning for his sixth attempt, he now believes it is only a matter of time before he wins the tournament.
“There’s a lot of guys that once they drive up Magnolia Lane here, something sort of lights up inside them,” he said.
“I feel comfortable on the course. I’m disappointed that my best finish was only 15th.
“I feel like I’ve played better than that and haven’t quite got the results. Hopefully I can change that this week.”
After what happened in 2011, McIlroy has learned not to expect too much of himself at Augusta National. He said he has learned to respect the course more and be more prudent with his shot selection.
And if he doesn’t win this year, he thinks he will still get plenty of other chances.
“I’d just like to get into contention again and have a chance to win the tournament,” he said.
“I answered a question last week: Could you see yourself finishing your career without a green jacket? And I said no, because it’s one of the top four prizes in the game, and that’s what I want to win.
“If I don’t quite win but get myself into contention and have a chance then; of course you’re going to have some good memories coming back here.”
Editing by Frank Pingue