Alex Perry examines Rory McIlroy's frustrating Augusta record in the 10 years since his agonising collapse - and how it made that year's champion 'invisible'
Has it really been 10 years since that Rory McIlroy meltdown at Augusta National? A meltdown that, we didn’t know at the time, would change not only his career but Masters history forever.
In 2011 McIlroy – at that point still just 21 and looking for his first major championship win – opened with a 65, matched only by Alvaro Quiros, a Friday 69 saw him break away from the pack, and when he signed for a 70 on Saturday the leaderboard showed him four shots clear.
Nine holes later, that lead was one. And then disaster. A hooked drive ricocheted off a tree and landed between the cabins that sit between Augusta’s main and par-three courses. McIlroy chipped out to the fairway before missing the green with his approach. He then hit another tree before chipping on and two-putting his way to a triple-bogey seven.
Now two back, McIlroy three-putted the 11th for bogey before inexplicably four-putting the 12th from inside 20 feet. Six dropped shots in three holes and he was out of the race. He failed to break 80 and finished 10 back in a tie for 15th.
He put a brave face on for the cameras – “I’ll get over it,” he explained. “I’ll have plenty more chances, I know that.” – but the next morning he was on the phone to his mum in tears.
A crushing eight-shot victory and a maiden major title at the US Open two months later will have softened the blow somewhat, and McIlroy has since added a Claret Jug and two PGA Championships, but at Augusta it’s been a case of what might have been.
Since 2014, McIlroy has finished in the top 10 six out of seven times. Who knows how many he might have had if he had just held on in 2011?
Ever since he has admitted that Augusta makes him feel uncomfortable – let’s face it, we’ve all been in golf therapy since – but it’s also a course that we’re told time and time again suits his game better than anyone else’s.
And while he has previously admitted he heads to this corner of Georgia over-prepared far too often, now it’s quite the opposite for McIlroy, whose personal life has changed somewhat significantly in recent months with the birth of his daughter, Poppy.
Before the most recent Masters, in November, McIlroy and his dad, Gerry, had an overnight stop in Augusta to get 27 holes in, but other than that it’s been all about embracing fatherhood, meditation, and self-help books.
“If I let something consume me too much then I start overthinking it – it’s just not a good thing,” he explained. “It’s almost a nice thing to not have the Masters on your mind 24/7.”
McIlroy’s ongoing battle to put that Green Jacket in his wardrobe has been an emotional rollercoaster for those of us just watching on. You can only imagine what it’s been like for him.
He’s the one player that every golf fan wants to see get over the line at Augusta, and how sweet it would be to do it on the 10th anniversary of the tournament that has haunted him since.
The invisible champion
You can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Charl Schwartzel.
On a frantic day where eight different players at one point or another held the lead, Schwartzel had to wait until the 71st hole for daylight.
He finished the 2011 Masters with four straight birdies – the best any previous champion had ever done was birdie 17 and 18 – to finish two clear and become just the third South African to win the Green Jacket, 50 years after Gary Player became the first overseas player to win it, while his six-under-par 66 was the lowest final round by a winner since Nick Faldo’s 65 in 1989.
One of the most thrilling final days in Masters history, and it’s best remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The fanfare normally reserved for Masters champions was non-existent. There were no talk show appearances for Schwartzel, who instead celebrated by hopping on a plane to Kuala Lumpur for the following week’s Malaysian Open on the European Tour.
Schwartzel’s record at Augusta since has not been much to write home about – one top 10 and four missed cuts muddled in with a handful of mid-table finishes – but whether you remember that action-packed day in 2011 for his glorious finish or McIlroy’s meltdown, he has one thing his friend from Northern Ireland doesn’t have. For now.
Rory McIlroy at the Masters
2010: MC at +7 (74-77)
2011: T15 at -4 (65-69-70-80)
2012: T40 at +5 (71-69-77-76)
2013: T25 at +2 (72-70-79-69)
2014: T8 at E (71-77-71-69)
2015: 4th at -12 (71-71-68-66)
2016: T10 at +1 (70-71-77-71)
2017: T7 at -3 (72-73-71-69)
2018: T5 at -9 (69-71-65-74)
2019: T21 at -5 (73-71-71-68)
2020: T5 at -11 (75-66-67-69)