Rory McIlroy breezed into Augusta with a smile on his face ahead of the 2012 Masters and proved to a packed Tuesday morning press conference that laughter is indeed the best medicine.
The U.S. Open champion is back at the scene of his final day collapse, determined to prove he is a better golfer and a bigger man a year down the road.
This time last year, McIlroy ended up in tears on the phone back to his mother in Co. Down as he tried to explain his fourth round capitulation in golf’s biggest major.
This week he was able to look back at it all with a smile and could even laugh about the proximity of the Augusta cabins to the 10th tee, the cabins that welcomed his wayward drive like magnets last April.
“I can’t believe how close the cabins are, they are only 50 yards off the tee,” said McIlroy to a room full of laugher on Tuesday.
“Look, it’s great to be able to laugh about it now. I played the hole again when I was here to practice last week and I played it a couple different ways.
“I haven’t changed any sort of game plan or anything from what happened last year. I’m just really excited to be back here and I’ve learned a lot in the year.
“I think one of the things I learned was that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn’t ready to win the Masters; 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. I felt like I did that.
“So the big thing for me is it was a huge learning curve, learning experience, and, you know, 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.”
McIlroy has more than one reason to raise a smile on Tuesday as he played cat and mouse with a press corps hanging on his every word.
Asked for his reaction to the theory that this year’s Masters is all about Tiger Woods and himself – with Woods as favorite – McIlroy was non-plussed.
“To be honest, I couldn’t care less about who the bookies make favorite. It’s only on paper,” he insisted. “I think it’s great for the tournament and it’s great for the game of golf that Tiger is back playing well.
“He creates excitement that no one else in the game can. You know, a lot of people want to see him make history, and it looks like he’s back on track to maybe going and doing that.
“I’m just looking forward to hopefully getting myself in contention and giving myself a chance, and maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever, definitely the best player of the last 20 years.”
With his parents with him at Augusta this year, McIlroy is in a happy place ahead of his Masters return on Thursday.
“I’m in a great place,” he insisted. “I feel like my golf game is in great shape. As I said, I’m coming back here a much more experienced player and feel like a much better player than the player that came here last year. I’m very excited about the week.
“Mentally, now I feel like if I get myself in a position again, I’ll be able to approach it a lot better. I felt like I didn’t approach it well at all last year.”