11 Apr 2011

McIlroy’s Masters meltdown: why some sports stars crumble

As Rory McIlroy admits he’ll find it hard to forget his Masters nightmare, a sports psychologist picks five sporting meltdowns for Channel 4 News and explains why the young player can recover.

Rory McIlroy crashed from four in front overnight to 10 shots behind and joint 15th place with a nightmare 80 for the final round at Augusta.

The 21-year-old Northern Irishman had hoped to become the second youngest winner in Masters history but fell away after arguably the worst round of golf in his career.

McIlroy triple-bogeyed the 10th, three-putted the 11th, four-putted the 12th and bogeyed the long 15th.

“I was still one shot ahead going into the 10th and then things went all pear-shaped after that,” McIlroy said.

Charl Schwartzel, the eventual champion, shot a 66 to win his first major title.

Rory McIlroy imploded at Augusta after leading the competition for 3 days (Getty)

Where did it go wrong for McIlroy?

Bases accredited sports psychologist Amanda Owens told Channel 4 News that sports like tennis and golf are particularly prone to meltdowns: “Unfortunately increased anxiety levels affect fine motor skills.

“Swimming and cycling are different kinds of sport. Golfers can end up playing themselves so it becomes an inner mental battle and their game can unravel in front of millions of people.”

Unsurprisingly Amanda said she thought Rory McIlroy could recover from his performance at Augusta: “I fully believe that players can learn how to change their behaviour. There’s a myth you can’t change behaviour but you can.

“By understanding their anxiety response and their interpretation of pressure you can change and learn how to perform better.”

Advice for sports stars

Amanda told Channel 4 News she would ask an athlete who had suffered a sporting meltdown to talk through their performance and watch a video analyses: “This can be quite painful but we would then compare it to one where they have performed well under pressure.

“In golf the time away from the holes can be crucial. That can be their downfall.

“It is the time away from the shot that is important, when they’re with their caddie.

“At this time they need to refocus and be aware of when they have performed well under pressure.”

Five of the worst sporting meltdowns

Jana Novotna at Wimbledon in 1993 (Getty)

Jana Novotna (Tennis)

Jana Novotna was playing Steffi Graf in the final of Wimbledon in 1993.

Novotna was leading 6-7 6-1 4-1 against Steffi Graf and had game point to go 5-1 up in the women’s singles final. But a double fault sparked a monumental collapse.

Novotna’s tournament ended with her crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent during the awards ceremony.

Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1993 (Getty)

Jean Van de Velde (Golf)

Van de Velde turned up at the 18th tee of The Open in 1999 needing only a double-bogey six to become the first Frenchman since 1907 to win the tournament.

It all went wrong: he ended up in the burn shin-deep in water during a disastrous hole.

He went onto to lose the following play-off to Scotland’s Paul Lawrie.

Gareth Southgate in Euro 1996

Gareth Southgate (Football)

Southgate’s saved penalty against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 1996 sent England crashing out.

The song Southgate (Euro ’96) by The Business is a reference to the sporting event.

Southgate later appeared in an advert for Pizza Hut which also featured Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle who had also missed crucial penalties.

Gavin Hastings in 1991 after his penalty miss (Getty)

Gavin Hastings (Rugby)

Scotland were playing England in the semi-final of the 1991 World Cup.

Hastings, who is widely regarded as one of the best players Scotland has ever produced, missed a short penalty from in front of the posts at Murrayfield. England went onto win 6-9.

Despite the disappointment it was Scotland’s best finish in a rugby world cup.

South Africa collapsed against New Zealand in 2011 (Getty)

South Africa (Cricket)

South Africa were considered one of the favourites for the 2011 World Cup but they crashed out to New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

They suffered a batting collapse and ended up losing the match by 49 runs.

The outcome did nothing to help their tag of “chokers”.