Why did Masters 2016 not work out for Rory McIlroy?

Golf wrtier Brian Keogh assesses this year's tournament

Rory McIlroy, Masters

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts after his shot out of a bunker on the second hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Danny Willett stood up after his champion’s press conference at Augusta National, the green of his Callaway polo short contrasting nicely with the 'Masters Green' of his new jacket.

"It's just great to get the win, regardless of who it's before or who it's after," he said, when asked if he was surprised to win a Masters before his former stablemate Rory McIlroy. "I am just privileged to be here".

For most of his career — starting with the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down — Willett has been looking up to McIlroy. Now it’s McIlroy’s turn to look up at Willett and wonder how he got his hands on the green jacket first.

"It is not about trying to follow in my footsteps," Willett said. "I was trying to follow in his."

Clearly, Willett is surprised he’s beaten a course and distance favourite like McIlroy to the finishing post in a race he is supposedly destined to win.

Given his talent, few players in the history off the game have been more hotly tipped to win at Augusta National than McIlroy, even after the disappointment of 2011, when he was four clear on 12 under par with a round to go and shot an eight over 80 to end up 15th.

“He won’t just win one Masters, he’ll win multiple Masters,” was the initial call from Graeme McDowell.

Bernhard Langer, Jack Nicklaus, Ian Woosnam and a host of other Masters winners agree, even after 2011.

So why hasn’t it happened yet?

The Masters Tournament is, despite all the hype, just another tournament and it requires tactics, discipline and certain skills to come out of top.

While the world record holder will often romp to victory in the 100 metres final at the Olympic Games, it’s still a race that must be won and like any other athlete, McIlroy must have a battle plan, the discipline to carry it out and the intelligence to make adjustments as conditions change.

Still, arriving at Augusta National with anything less than your A game is likely to end in tears, and it speaks volumes about Jordan Spieth that he had the discipline to compete with what Paul McGinley described as "his B minus game" and even lead the Masters by five strokes with nine holes to play.

Like a blind man trying to dance through rush hour traffic, we can now see (with benefit of the 20-20 vision that hindsight affords) that Spieth was an accident waiting to happen.

McIlroy was arguably striking the ball far better than his rival but that he did not compete at the weekend is an indictment of his lack of tactical and mental discipline, as the 2014 Ryder Cup captain suggested.

“That’s the big thing that Rory has to learn,” McGinley told Golf Channel on Tuesday. “He has to learn how to adapt. And he has to learn how to sit different examinations. And when you have an examination like last week with swirling winds, you have to be able to recover from those mistakes and get up and down to shoot a score.

“Look at Tiger Woods in ’06 at Hoylake. I think he only hit one or two drivers the whole way around. That’s the discipline he showed to sit the examination paper that Hoylake presented. And then he would go somewhere else where he would take out the driver and play aggressively.

“You have to play aggressively but in the words of Bernhard Langer last week, you have to be aggressive-smart and I think Rory needs to learn different disciplines to sit different examination papers and Augusta was a very tough exam last week.”

McIlroy’s putting is often cited as the reason he hasn’t won the Masters. But if can make an eagle and 16 birdies in 72 holes, as he did last week, he could surely have found a way to avoid making as many as 15 bogeys and two double bogeys.

Spieth’s greatest strength is his putting and yet he changed his set up last week, using a wider stance and crouching more over the ball rather than standing up straight to combat the buffeting winds.

McIlroy made 11 of his 17 mistakes last week on three holes — the Par 3 fourth, the 10th and the 11th. Most of those mistakes came with long irons or the driver and were exacerbated by course management errors. 

The fourth is a tough Par 3 but McIlroy did not hit the green in any round, saved par just once and made two bogeys and a double that could have been a four-putt triple had he not holed a five and a half footer.

His troubles at the 10th have been well documented since his tee shot in the final round in 2011 ricocheted off overhanging branches into the cabins and he made a triple bogey seven.

McIlroy was just three over for his first nine attempts to play the hole, but he is now 10 over for the hole they call Camellia in his last 22 tries, starting with that triple.

He’s also got issues getting through the 11th, White Dogwood, which he played in five over par last week.

Amen Corner has been a graveyard for many Masters dreams, including Spieth’s on Sunday. But McIlroy’s problems are more widespread and while he played eight holes on the course under par — in order of ease, the 15th, 13th, second, ninth, eighth, third, 17th and 18th are his good holes — he has historic problems on the other 10 with the 10th, first, seventh and 11th his biggest bugbears.

He says he was too tentative, but he also appeared mentally unprepared for the grind the gusting winds presented. Given his remarkable talents, the rest of world golf can only breathe a sigh of relief that so far he hasn’t learned how to dig deep when the going gets tough or tactically dissect a course like a Woods, a Langer or even a Spieth.

The good news is that at 26, it’s not too late to learn.