AUGUSTA // The young Rory McIlroy let the 2011 Masters slip through his hands on Sunday, failing to meet great expectations for the golfing prodigy in one of the biggest collapses at a major championship.
The 21-year-old Northern Irishman carried a four-shot lead into the final round after going 12-under-par for 54 holes but soared to an 80 that left him 10 shots behind South African winner Charl Schwartzel.
"You know, I'm very disappointed at the minute, and I'm sure I will be for the next few days," the curly-haired McIlroy told reporters. "But I'll get over it."
Not since Australian Greg Norman squandered a six-stroke lead going into the final round of the 1996 Masters to finish five shots behind champion Nick Faldo of Britain had there been such a stunning reversal at Augusta National.
McIlroy showed some early nerves, missing three putts of six feet and closer but still clung to a one-shot advantage heading into the homeward half.
That is when things got ugly.
McIlroy hit a monstrously wild drive at the 10th on his way to a triple-bogey, three-putted for bogey at 11 and four-putted for double-bogey at the par-three 12th.
"I just hit a poor tee shot on 10 and I just sort of unraveled from there, just sort of lost it 10, 11, 12, and couldn't really get it back," he said.
"It's one of those things. I've got to take the positives, and the positives were I led this tournament for 63 holes."
At the 10th, McIlroy pulled his tee shot into the woods to the left where a ricochet sent his ball between two Augusta National residential cabins dotted around the course and rarely seen during the championship.
After hitting another tree in trying to reach the green, he took a triple-bogey seven that dropped him from first place to a tie for seventh.
After not taking a single three-putt in the event, McIlroy used seven putts on the next two holes to seal his fate.
"I can't really put my finger on it. I lost a lot of confidence in my putting around the turn," he said. "I didn't really get anything going and was sort of second guessing lines and second guessing my speed. On these greens you can't do that."
He showed his maturity by trying to put the painful experience in perspective. "You know, I'll have plenty more chances. I know that," said McIlroy, who had finished in third place in three of the previous five majors and had looked to be heading for a win.
"It's very disappointing what happened today. Hopefully it'll build a little bit of character in me, as well."
Runner-up Adam Scott of Australia said: "He's a hell of a player, and he just needs to let it get out of his system and reset everything and get on with it."
Masters winner Schwartzel said, "Golf is a really funny game. One moment you're on top of it and the next it bites you. He's such a phenomenal player. He'll win one."