Nick Faldo backs Rory McIlroy to recover from Masters collapse
Nick Faldo still believes in Rory McIlroy after watching every shot of a Masters nightmare that inevitably turned his own mind back 15 years.
McIlroy's closing round of 80 at Augusta, which sent him crashing from four shots clear to 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel, had everybody thinking of Greg Norman.
And Faldo, of course, was the beneficiary at the same venue in 1996 when Norman crashed to a 78 and went from six ahead to five behind.
The Australian never won another major, but he was 41 at the time. McIlroy is 21.
"He's young and I am sure he will regroup and come back stronger," said Faldo, now a commentator on American television.
"He was thrown in at the deep end and this is a serious deep end. You are there on your own, things get out of sync and you lose your tempo."
It took England's former world number one until the day after his 30th birthday to land the first of his six majors - and that came after he had finished in the top 12 of the Open no fewer than seven times in the previous nine years.
McIlroy is already amassing his own such list in the majors and this was not his first big disappointment.
At the Open last July, of course, he followed a first-round 63 with another 80 and a month later in the US PGA Championship he missed out on the play-off by one shot after bogeying the 15th and missing a birdie chance at the last.
"I'll have plenty more chances, I know, and hopefully it will build a bit of character in me as well," he said.
"I don't think I can put it down to anything else than part of the learning curve.
"Hopefully if I can get myself back into this position pretty soon I will handle it a little bit better.
"It will be pretty tough for me for the next few days, but I will get over it - I will be fine.
"There are a lot worse things that can happen in your life. Shooting a bad score in the last round of a golf tournament is nothing in comparison to what other people go through.
"I can't really put my finger on what went wrong. I lost a lot of confidence with my putting, but I just hit a poor tee shot on 10 and sort of unravelled from there."
The Northern Ireland youngster, still one ahead at the time, started the back nine with a triple-bogey seven, three-putted the 11th, four-putted the 12th and after saving par from Rae's Creek at the long next, ran up a six on the 15th.
"Getting applauded up onto the greens, I was almost a little embarrassed at some points. But the support I had here was fantastic and I really appreciate it."
Just to rub in his misery almost, McIlroy had stablemate Schwartzel as a flying companion today as he headed to this week's Malaysian Open.
Although the 26-year-old South African has long been thought of a star in the making himself - he got his European Tour card nine years ago - this was only his second Masters and he had never previously finished in the top 10 of any major.
Schwartzel's 66 was the low score of the day - and he might never play a more dramatic round.
He chipped in at the first, pitched in from 114 yards for an eagle two at the third and then birdied the last four holes to beat Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day by two.
While celebrating his own breakthrough he empathised with McIlroy.
"It's difficult - what do you say? He's such a phenomenal player and the way he played the first three rounds you have to think that a win is not that far away," he said.
"Golf is a really funny game. One moment you're on top of it and the next it bites you."
Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, manager to both of them and a former European Tour player, insists he does not worry about McIlroy's future.
"He knows there's a problem, but it's not an insolvable problem," he said. "It's just learning and he's a smart lad."
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