AUGUSTA, GA. — Rory McIlroy’s preparation for the Masters included three weeks off from tournament golf and a couple of trips to Augusta National to reacquaint himself with the course. That meant, of course, stepping to the 10th tee, where a year ago he held a one-shot lead with nine holes to play.
His drive there formed the guts of an epic meltdown. It started left, hit a tree and kicked further left, into the cabins beyond the woods.
“I can’t believe how close those cabins are,” McIlroy said Tuesday, and he laughed. “. . . It’s great to be able to laugh about it now.”
Everything about the run-up to McIlroy’s 2012 Masters is tied into the 2011 Masters, the four-shot lead he carried into Sunday and the closing 80 that left him tied for 15th. The symbol of that round — even though he three-putted 11 and four-putted 12 — was the 10th, where he made a triple-bogey 7.
McIlroy has said over the course of the past year that he has purged that round. Now, he has, too, confronted No. 10.
“I just had a quick glance on the way past walking down the middle of the fairway last week,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I’ll do the same thing during the week this week.”
McIlroy, 22, spent his time Tuesday thoughtfully and respectfully addressing how the 2011 experience changed him.
“The first time I played the back nine last week, obviously there’s memories that come back — and memories that you probably don’t want,” he said. “It’s fine. I got that all out of the way and [am] just looking forward to this week and looking forward to trying to put myself in contention to try and win this thing.”
Dustin Johnson, whose prodigious length and recent contention in major championships make him an annual logical choice here, withdrew Tuesday because of a tweaked back.
“You have no idea how much I wanted to walk the fairways at Augusta and fulfill what I’ve been practicing for,” Johnson tweeted shortly after Masters officials announced his withdrawal, just after noon.
Johnson has not finished better than tied for 30th in his three previous Masters, but he is ranked 12th in the world and had chances to win the 2010 U.S. Open and PGA Championship as well as last year’s British Open.
Johnson’s departure leaves the Masters with 96 players. Unlike the other three majors, the Masters does not have an alternate list.
McIlroy and three-time champion Phil Mickelson will have most of their opening rounds televised on ESPN, which begins its coverage at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. McIlroy joins Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera — with whom he shot his 80 a year ago — at 1:42 p.m., just before the final group of Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Peter Hanson at 1:53 p.m.
Tiger Woods plays at 10:35 a.m. Thursday with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sang-moon Bae, meaning his round will be over by the time television coverage starts. Woods’s group, which plays at 1:42 p.m. Friday, is preceded by a threesome including defending champion Charl Schwartzel and PGA champ Keegan Bradley and followed by world No. 1 Luke Donald.