The first time McIlroy recalls watching the Masters on TV was 1996, aged only 6 years old, when one of his golf idols, Nick Faldo, shot 67 in the final round to overcome a six-shot deficit.
What resonated was not so much the triple bogey at No. 10 when his tee shot ricocheted between cabins and trees, or the four-putt double bogey on No. 12 that effectively ended his Masters. Rather, it was the great courtesy with which he handled such a crushing loss.
He looked as if he wanted to hide on the back nine, when he shot a 43. He refused to run for cover when it was over, instead answering every question with disappointment, but not despair.
He told the Irish Examiner, "First thing I don’t think I was ready — that was the most important thing," the Irishman said at Quail Hollow course.
"I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on. But I think you’ve got to take the positives — for 63 holes I led and it was just a very bad back nine that sort of took the tournament away from me, I suppose.
"But what can you do? There are three more majors this year and hopefully dozens more that I’ll play in my career. I was just trying to stay ahead of the field, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good thing.
"I just should have gone out, played my game and said, ‘Right, if I play well today I’m capable of shooting 65 around this golf course and winning by 10’.
"But that’s not the way it worked out and that’s experience. That’s just learning to be in that position more often. Hopefully I’ll be able to get myself in those positions more often in my career and sooner or later it’s going to happen where it finally clicks and I’m able to handle the whole thing a lot better and win," he added.
"It took me a couple of days maybe to get over it. It was a great chance to win a first major, but it’s only golf at the end of the day.
"No-one died. I’m very happy with my life, very happy with my game."
McIlroy has only had two wins, but they are significant - he has played well beyond his years since earning his European Tour card as an 18-year-old in just two events.
The young golfing star is more interested in what lies ahead than what's behind him, even though the final round of the Masters could define his career until he wins a major that is.