McIlroy’s Grand Designs on Green Jacket

John Craven

Rory McIlroy (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

When a curly-haired Rory McIlroy opened his Masters account in 2011 with a seven-under par 65, the world was put on notice. 

A prodigious talent, McIlroy had broken through on the PGA Tour the previous year at Quail Hollow, recorded nine top-10 finishes on the European Tour while cracking the world’s top-10 and rising to as high as seventh on the rankings. McIlroy had the golfing world at his feet, but at 21, he’d already tasted Major disappointment.  

In 2010, he exploded out the gate with a 63 at The Open at St Andrews only to be battered by wind and rain on his way to a closing 80. At the PGA Championship that same year at Whistling Straits, he held the lead during the final round before three-putting the 15th and missing a birdie putt on the final hole to join the playoff.  


He entered the first Major of 2011 at Augusta determined to put his experience to use, but after his opening 65, questions naturally arose in the media centre about McIlroy’s previous flirtations with Major leads. 

“I hope it will help me,” he said resolutely. “I have that experience to draw from. I feel I’m better prepared.” 

A year older and wiser, McIlroy dealt with expectations wonderfully from the front through three rounds and would begin the final day four clear. Playing alongside the imposing Argentinian Angel Cabrera, McIlroy revealed a first chink in his armour on the first, airmailing the green and making bogey. 

By the time he made the turn, his lead had been reduced to a solitary stroke and the pressure was cranking up. A snap-hook on the tenth tee rattled McIlroy to his core, leading to a triple-bogey before he four-putted the par-3 12th and his chances went with it. From heading the field by four entering the final round, he would sign for an 80 and lose by 10. Under questioning, again McIlroy stood resolute. 

“Hopefully, next time I’m in this position, I’ll be able to handle it a little better,” he said. 

And he did.  

Two months later, McIlroy proved his mettle to the world, sauntering to a maiden Major title at the U.S. Open, putting the field to the sword by eight shots at Congressional. With victory, he banished the ghosts of Augusta but given the ups and downs of golf, McIlroy remains convinced that one couldn’t have happened without the other. 

“I place a lot of importance on what happened here in 2011 and I feel like it made me a better player, I feel like it made me a better person, it definitely was a character builder,” McIlroy later said. 

“It took me a while to get over it, but I knew if I looked at the big picture it would serve me well in the long run. And I don’t think I would have had the career I’ve had so far if it wasn’t for that day. I think it was very important.” 

Still, for those following the career of McIlroy since he first bounced onto a fairway, chest out and swinging freely, few could’ve expected that a Green Jacket would remain elusive sitting here in 2022.  

Despite his 2011 collapse, the most famous garment in golf has always looked made to measure, McIlroy’s towering draw the ideal fit to navigate Augusta’s pine-trees that favour a right-to-left ball flight.  

There have been chances in the interim, though none as great as 2011, but 2018 stands out as a sore spot; McIlroy failing to take advantage of a moving day 65 that launched him into the final group alongside Patrick Reed – Captain America dispatching the fan favourite as McIlroy slumped to a 74. 

“You can mention Hogan and Snead on their 10th go. Arnold won his first Masters at 28. There’s a lot of different comparisons you could make, but it’s all really meaningless unless you go out there and actually do it,” McIlroy said that year, refusing to push the panic button on his Grand Slam ambitions with just a Masters title remaining to complete it. 

“I feel like I’ve been here long enough and I’ve played enough rounds around here to know how to play this golf course well, and well enough to win. 

“I never come in here thinking I’ve served my time and this is my turn because it’s never your turn. You have to go out and get it.” 

In recent years, McIlroy has torn up trees trying to reinvent himself, from chasing distance, to fresh ideas with swing-coach Pete Cowen, to sessions with Dr Bob Rotella, to meditation, juggling, downplaying golf’s importance in the grand scheme of his life, before eventually unravelling much of what made him great, highlighted by his missed cut at the tournament last year as McIlroy struggled with a two-way miss.  

This year, he’s returned exclusively to lifelong coach Michael Bannon and off the back of winning twice on the PGA Tour last season, the four-time Major winner feels like his swing is back under control and more than good enough to contend for golf’s biggest titles. 

“Maybe I’m at a different stage of my life whereas back then, golf was everything. Obviously, look, it’s still very, very important, but maybe back then, I don’t know if I would feel like I was fulfilled if I didn’t win one or whatever it is.

“Look, I know if I play well, I’ll give myself chances to win this golf tournament. It’s just a matter of going out there and executing the way you know that you can and stick to your game plan and be patient and be disciplined and all the things you need to do around Augusta National.

“Knowing that, if you hit a wedge to 20 or 30 feet, that’s okay. Middle of the greens, you hole a few putts, that’s what it’s about. It’s about hitting greens. It’s about playing to the fat part of the green, being somewhat conservative.

“I think that’s what wins you the Masters. You see the highlights of people hitting heroic golf shots around here, but that’s just one golf shot. The rest of the time, they’re doing the right things and being patient and being disciplined, and that’s what wins you green jackets.”

Jack Nicklaus on McIlroy’s grand plans:

“I think if I were in Rory’s position, I would be looking at trying to win the Masters, not trying to finish a Grand Slam. I think to win the Masters, that’s enough to worry about.”  

Rory’s decade of trying: 

  • 2021  CUT +6     76 74                $10,000  
  • 2020   T5   -11    75 66 67 69      $437,000  
  • 2019   T21  -5     73 71 71 68     $107,956  
  • 2018    T5   -9     69 71 65 74     $386,375  
  • 2017    T7   -3     72 73 71 69      $354,750  
  • 2016   T10  +1     70 71 77 71     $230,000  
  • 2015     4   -12     71 71 68 66     $480,000  
  • 2014    T8    E      71 77 71 69     $234,000  
  • 2013   T25  +2     72 70 79 69      $56,040  
  • 2012   T40  +5     71 69 77 76      $32,000  
  • 2011    T15 – 4      65 69 70 80      $128,000 

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