2011, a good year for Rory McIlroy

A year when you throw away a lead in the Masters is rarely going to be a good one. When the collapse is as public and extreme as Rory McIlroy’s on the Sunday afternoon at Augusta in April, when he surrendered a four shot lead and finished tied for 15th place, it is to be expected that the recovery would be slow and painful.

Instead the golfer ensured that 2011 was his landmark year for positive reasons. Just eight weeks later McIlroy was back on the tee at a major, the US Open, and he destroyed a field of the world’s best golfers with some of the most assured play anyone had seen from any player not named after a big cat. At the Congressional Club he won by eight shots, one for each week of waiting for another chance of glory.

It established McIlroy among the greats, and as a major winner at just 22. He won £5 million in prize money, and a few million more in sponsorship deals. “2011 was the year I grew up,” he has suggested.

Maybe on the golf course, but he’s still young, still capable of embarrassing gestures like labelling his romantic relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki as “Wozilroy”, and getting into ill-tempered spats on Twitter.

He’s also number two in the world and about to embark on a compelling duel with his friend and temperamental opposite Luke Donald. Donald says McIlroy is more naturally-talented than Tiger Woods. That’s a big claim, but the Irishman may be piling up the supporting evidence in 2012.

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