Masters meltdown a valuable lesson for hungry McIlroy
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Twelve months after blowing a four-shot lead in the final round of the Masters, Rory McIlroy says he is ready to win his first green jacket at Augusta National.
The mop-haired Northern Irishman is one of the favorites for the opening major of the season and believes his improved putting is the biggest change in his game since his stunning meltdown last year.
"I definitely feel like I've come back here the same person but just with a different attitude," U.S. Open champion McIlroy told reporters at an overcast Augusta National on Tuesday.
"I came in here last year hoping to do well and maybe to have a chance to win or whatever. But this year, I'm coming in with the attitude that I want to win; I want to put myself into contention.
"I feel like I've been playing some good golf leading up to this week. I'm bringing in some pretty good form, and I'm just excited to get started. I can't wait to get going."
McIlroy held a four-stroke lead going into the final round of last year's Masters but he spectacularly succumbed to the pressure as he closed with a nightmarish eight-over-par 80.
Asked what he had gained from that haunting experience, the 22-year-old replied: "I learned that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn't ready to win the Masters, I wasn't ready to win a major.
"I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game to get better. And I felt like I did that.
"It was a huge learning curve. I took a lot from it and was able to put some of the things I learned into practice very quickly, and that's what resulted in winning the U.S. Open a couple months after. "
Two months after his bitter Masters disappointment, McIlroy won his first major title by a staggering eight shots in the U.S. Open at Congressional, a triumph that made him one of the most popular figures in the game.
When he now looks back at television footage of his Masters meltdown, he instantly recognizes that his approach to that final round and the manner in which he played was totally out of character.
"From watching the tape back, I was always looking at the ground," world number two McIlroy said. "I was very insular. My shoulders were a little bit like this," he added while hunching forward.
"It was sort of like I didn't want the outside world to get in instead of embracing the situation and saying, "You know, I've got a four-shot lead at the Masters; let's enjoy this'.
"I was trying to be too focused, too perfect. (Usually) I'm more relaxed. I sort of have a bounce in my step with my head up looking around at other people."
Widely regarded as one of the most accurate drivers in the game, McIlroy says his putting has improved significantly since last year's Masters after working with guru Dave Stockton.
"That's probably been the biggest change in any game since this time last year," he added. "I feel like there's a lot more feel in my stroke, and that's something I've worked on with Dave Stockton pretty hard."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)