Rory's return… Embarrassed McIlroy laughs off Masters blow-out from 12 months ago
21:11 GMT, 3 April 2012
Talk to the local caddies at Augusta National and they will tell you that everyone who walks down the 10th hole wants to know exactly where Rory McIlroy's drive finished on that fateful Sunday last year.
Like Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999, it has gone down as one of those iconic moments loved by ordinary golfers for being a vivid demonstration that even the best can occasionally be made to look foolish.
Rory, his mind a complete blur 12 months ago, got to see for himself where it finished last week. His verdict
All smiles: Rory McIlroy (right) with Augusta National Golf Club member Ron Townsend on Tuesday
'I can't believe how close the cabins are, I mean they are only 50 yards from the tee,' he said almost disbelievingly, his face turning a gentle shade of pinkish embarrassment. 'It's great to be able to laugh about it now.'
It was certainly no laughing matter last year. Leading by one at the time, the man who routinely hits the ball more than 300 yards from the tee saw his three wood take a horrific ricochet off the trees and finish next to the cabins where no-one, not even the greenest of green jacket-holding players, had been.
Everyone knows what happened after that, and what happened last June when he rebounded to win the US Open by a country mile.
Hard at work: McIlroy (right) hits an approach shot in practice under the gaze of his caddie, JP Fitzgerald
And so we find McIlroy returning to Augusta National with the scars hopefully healed, his voice filled with the eager anticipation of a man desperate to show what he has learned.
McIlroy's umpteenth recall of last year's events was punctuated by some lovely moments. He said a phone call from Greg Norman had held particular resonance because of the Australian's heartbreaking history here. Any of Greg's near misses that particularly spring to mind
'Well, 1996 against Nick Faldo, obviously,' he said. 'As for 1986 and '87 – I wasn't born.'
Putting in the practice: McIlroy has been spending time with his putting coach Dave Stockton (left)
It wasn't the only time the room filled with laughter. There was an awkward moment when his phone started ringing. A streaker running across the 18th fairway might get a better greeting at Augusta than someone on the grounds with a mobile.
'No phones at Augusta!' cried McIlroy, with an expression of mock horror. 'Let's pretend we didn't hear anything,' said Ron Townsend gently, the Masters member sitting alongside him.
Townsend was not the only member to display a sense of humour. When the draw was released it showed McIlroy alongside Angel Cabrera for the first two rounds. The burly Argentine was the man who had a ringside seat for the 80 blows McIlroy took on that final day. 'On the back nine he looked like he just didn't want to be there,' said the former champ.
Still got it: Masters legend Tom Watson hits a shot as McIlroy watches from the side of the tee box
What's the betting he sees a rather different McIlroy this time
Last year he was a 21-year-old on a joy ride with three of his mates. One night they tried to play football in the street and got told off by one of the residents. McIlroy acknowledged it's all a little different now.
'Last year I came here with the hope of doing well and maybe have a chance to win,' he said. 'This year I'm coming here with the attitude that I want to win. I'd like to think I'm the same person as last year but there will definitely be a big difference in approach.'
Making a splash: The Northern Irishman practices his shots from the bunker at Augusta
The other abiding image of that back nine last year was McIlroy putt-putt-putting himself into oblivion. Since then he has worked hard with the noted short game coach Dave Stockton and was at it again on Tuesday afternoon, as they concentrated on putts of medium-length range.
McIlroy hasn't been seen on a golf course in competitive mode for three weeks, an unusually long break for a pro before a major. As Lee Westwood said: 'I'd much rather be going into the Masters having not played for three days competitively than for three weeks.' Yet it worked pretty well for McIlroy this time last year and he put together a convincing argument as to why he thinks it will work again this time.
Back in the swing: McIlroy tees off on the first hole during his Tuesday practice round
'If you look at the way I play, I usually do well the first week I come back out when I feel fresh and ready to go,' he said. 'I feel like if this was my third week in a row, there might be bad shots or bad putts that creep into your mind from the previous week. For me, after three weeks off, it always feels like a fresh start and you're raring to go.'
Never does that apply more than here, where McIlroy's eyes were filled with wonder as he spoke of the joy of receiving his Masters invitation in the post. Where he laughed at his all-too human frailty from 12 months ago and signalled his obvious intent on making amends.