EXCLUSIVE: A year on, friends and family remember… the major meltdown that made McIlroy!
22:00 GMT, 30 March 2012
22:00 GMT, 30 March 2012
It was one of the most dramatic days in the history of major championship golf. A day when Rory McIlroy, leading by four strokes after 54 holes and bidding to become the second youngest winner of the Masters, collapsed with stage fright and ended up shooting 80 in the final round.
In the process he created a series of indelible images that, a year on, remain in the mind's eye. From going where no golfer had gone before with his drive off the 10th, to slumping on the head of his driver after another wayward blow at the 13th.
The following day, a poignant photograph was taken of him on a private jet with the man who ended up winning the green jacket, South African Charl Schwartzel, his management stablemate at the time.
Showing the strain: Rory McIlroy collapsed on the back nine at Augusta last year
In an interview with Sportsmail in December, McIlroy talked in unsparing detail about his meltdown, including the moving image of being so embarrassed he struggled to ring home afterwards.
But what was it like for those closest to the young Northern Irishman On the eve of Rory's return to the Masters, we've tracked down some of his nearest and dearest and asked them to share their own painful experiences of that incredible day. His caddie, JP Fitzgerald, is commenting publicly for the first time.
McIlroy somehow put that Sunday in April behind him to win the US Open in June. Which is just as well, otherwise the memory of that Masters for some might have been too excruciating to recall.
His caddie: JP Fitzgerald
It was clear our chemistry was wrong that day and I take my full share of the blame for that. We shot 80 so I am not going to feel happy about my part.
We could go through what was wrong but I'd much prefer to dwell on the positives and what came out of the whole experience.
About an hour or two afterwards Rory and I met in the car park and we had a great chat about the day. There were no recriminations as we talked it through and planned for the future.
Still smiling: McIlroy walks off the 18th green with caddie JP Fitzgerald last April
I suggested to Rory that he seek out America's former Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton who has become a great short-game coach and I think Rory is on record as saying how much Dave has helped him with his putting.
We finished up giving each other a hug. All you can do is learn from such experiences and I'd like to think we've both shown that we've done so.
His father: Gerry McIlroy
I watched it alone at home. My wife Rosie was over at Rory's house looking after his two dogs. They were having a big night at Holywood Golf Club but I decided not to go. I knew they were all going to be really hyper and that's not me.
Rosie and I spoke on the phone a few times through the evening. I knew everything was not quite right on the first tee. It was his body language.
It was difficult to watch the 10th but I was never really concerned about Rory. He's always been good at taking away the positives from a situation – and that's all that was, a situation.
What can I say, he had a bad break on the 10th and it all unravelled. No, it wasn't any fun to watch but that's just golf. I am quite laid-back, as is Rory, and I knew he'd take it well, as he showed when speaking to the media straight afterwards.
Faith: Rory's father, Gerry McIlroy (centre right) knew he would recover
I spoke to him later that night and then Rosie spoke to him the next morning. He was OK but a bit down, maybe a bit embarrassed. It would have been good if I was there. And that's why I decided to go over with him for the week of the US Open.
His management rep: Stuart Cage
You could tell he was more jumpy than the first three days. There was less chat and he was clearly nervous. He had his mates with him in the car going up to the club and there wasn't a lot of banter.
With hindsight I wished I'd grabbed his attention and helped him relax but he had been slightly nervous on Saturday and dealt with it well.
It was the second hole where I started to worry. He hit the lip of the fairway bunker with his recovery shot and, as a golfer, that told me he was pushing a little too hard, trying to get the ball as far down that par five as possible because he was nervous. His thinking was clearly not 100 per cent.
Everyone goes on about the 10th but bad luck made his tee shot appear miles worse than it was. After his drive at the 13th I knew it was over and what was going through his head. It just hurts and having spent so much time with him it hurt for me like I was watching my own son.
Nerves: McIlroy hits the lip of the bunker on the second hole of the final round
That night was difficult. We had Charl at the house as well and you're congratulating one while commiserating with the other. But Rory was amazing with Charl and handling the press. I think in his head he'd already moved on and that's why he could go to the US Open and win it by a mile.
The Masters this year I'm not a gambler but I'd put money on him.
His golfing mate: Graeme McDowell
I went with a pal to the Tap Room, a sports bar near my home in Lake Nona. I thought at least there was one upside in having missed the cut at the Masters and that was that I could enjoy watching the final day. I don't usually like watching golf but with my close friend leading this seemed like a special day.
I was worried for Rors. He's a different golfer now but back then he was always prone to a hook if he was under pressure. I could sense something wasn't right on the first. He and JP (Fitzgerald) weren't communicating as they should have.
Home club woe: Members at Holywood Golf Club react as Rory blows it
And when he went left with his second shot on the first I thought: 'What are you doing, you know you don't hit it there.' It stayed on the green but he three-putted. 'I don't like this,' I told my pal.
People don't understand how unlucky his break was on the 10th and, of course, then it went from bad to worse. It was awful to watch; I just wanted to turn off the television. But I couldn't. I was in a pub!
Of course I felt for Rors – who didn't – and I sent him a text that night. I can't remember exactly what it said, something along the lines of: 'Don't worry, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.' Typical Rory, he came back straight away. 'I'm fine,' he said. He's that sort of bloke. As he proved a few months later.
His mentor: Darren Clarke
If I'm not playing in the Masters you can guarantee I'll be watching every shot.
One way or another, it's one of those events I never miss and after the way Rory played for the first three days I was looking forward to watching the final round.
I was at home and it quickly became clear it was not going to be a comfortable experience. As the afternoon wore on I started to get conflicting emotions, because Charl is a great friend as well.
Happy ending: McIlroy went on to win his very next major, the US Open
Of course it was sad watching what happened to Rory but I didn't go to bed feeling it was the end of the world for him. Remember, I've known him since he was 13 and I've seen him grow and learn from every setback.
The type of personality he is, you always know he is going to bounce back and so while I was desperately sad for him I took comfort in the fact I knew he would be stronger for the experience.
I must admit I didn't think it would be so quick for him to win his next major but that's Rory. He's the most gifted player of his time, the Tiger Woods of his generation.
The hometown pro: Stephen Crooks
(Head pro – Holywood Golf Club)
There were 110 of us at the club. There was only one telly so we were all crammed around it.
By the time Rory started the atmosphere was great, really buzzing, as if we were going to have one big party. When it all was going wrong on the 10th I remember seeing everyone with their heads in their hands.
We all just wanted to put our arms around him. We've known him since he was young and knew he'd return stronger and make us proud.