McIlroy makes light of his Masters nightmare as he prepares for challenge from revitalised Woods

Spectators watch as Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, putts on the driving range before his practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Spectators watch as Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, putts on the driving range before his practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Rory McIlroy insists he is not haunted by what happened at last year’s Masters – because he cannot remember too much about it.

The 22-year-old went from four ahead to 10 behind with a nightmare closing 80 last April, but gave his first answer to how much it affected him by winning the US Open by eight shots only two months later.

“To be honest, it was such a blur,” said McIlroy as the countdown continued to the opening major of the season at Augusta National.

“Everything went so quickly.”

Even with his first major title in the bag, however, his return to the scene of the meltdown was bound to be one of the main talking points this week.

McIlroy practised on the course last week and his mind went back 12 months at the 10th, where his final-round drive had rebounded off a tree in between two of the lodges left of the fairway.

“I can’t believe how close the cabins are – they are only 50 yards off the tee,” he said, drawing laughter from a packed room of journalists.

“Look, it’s great to be able to laugh about it now. I just had a quick glance on the way past walking down the middle of the fairway last week – and, hopefully, I’ll do the same thing this week.

“Obviously the first time I played the back nine last week there are memories that come back and memories that you probably don’t want.

“It’s fine. I got that all out of the way, I’m looking forward to trying to put myself in contention to try and win this thing.

“I learned a lot. I think one of the things I learned was that as a person and as a golfer I wasn’t ready to win the Masters.”

Now he thinks he is, although the task has become harder with Tiger Woods back to winning ways two weeks ago.

“I think it’s great for the tournament and great for the game of golf that Tiger is back playing well,” he added. “He creates excitement that no one else in the game can. A lot of people want to see him make history and it looks like he’s back on track.”

Woods is four short of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major wins, but has been on 14 since the 2008 US Open and won the last of his four Masters green jackets in 2005.

“I’m just looking forward to hopefully giving myself a chance and maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever – definitely the best player of the last 20 years,” McIlroy continued.

“People have very short memories. He won the 2008 US Open on one leg and he can do a lot of things that other people can’t.

“But mentally now I feel like if I get myself in a position again I’ll be able to approach it a lot better.

“The way I approached it (last year) was out of character for me. I was trying to be too focused, too perfect.

“From watching the tape back, I was always looking at the ground. I was very insular – sort of like I didn’t want the outside world to get in instead of embracing the situation and saying ‘I’ve got a four-shot lead at the Masters, let’s enjoy this’.

“I definitely feel like I’ve come back here the same person but just with a different attitude.”

Of all the attempts to comfort him a year ago, McIlroy believes the most important was the telephone call made by Greg Norman a few days later.

“I was in Malaysia in my hotel room and he talked to me about it. I think it was great coming from him because he had sort of been in the same position in 1996, but I think ’86 as well.”

That was the year Norman’s late slip allowed Nicklaus to win his last major at the age of 46.

“He said a couple things to me that I found very useful and sort of put into practice – create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and sort of don’t let any of the outside interference come into that.

“That was big for me. I think he knew more than anyone else how I was feeling at that point.”

McIlroy has shut down tweeting for the week, although having told his near million followers that he hoped his next message would be “with a green jacket in his possession” he did break that yesterday.

It was for a good cause, though. He was advertising the fact that his bag this week carries the logo of the UNICEF charity.

Masters tee-off times and pairings: Page 22.