Friday 30 September 2016

Irishman lets four-shot lead slip as Scott triumphs again

Brian Keogh in Miami

Published 07/03/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy drives off the second tee during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy drives off the second tee during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Just when Rory McIlroy felt he'd found the secret, golf jumped up and punched him in the face in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship last night.

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A new putting method appeared to offer ultimate solution to his biggest weakness but at the precise moment he needed his majestic long game to work flawlessly, it quickly evaporated on a warm northeast Florida wind.

From three strokes ahead overnight, and four in the early part of the final round, the world No 3 slumped to a two-over 74, hitting just six fairways and nine greens in regulation as he finished tied for fourth with Danny Willett, two shots behind an extraordinarily resilient Adam Scott on 10 under par.

McIlroy came to the last potentially needing a birdie - and a Scott bogey - to force a possible play-off.

Hazard

But as he drove into the palm trees, it was Scott, playing in the group in front, who got up and down from the hazard, holing a seven-footer for par and a 69 to win his second WGC by a stroke from Bubba Watson on 12 under par.

The Australian (35) had started in calamitous fashion with two early double bogeys leaving him six strokes behind the Co Down man.

McIlroy had promised to give a display of controlled aggression, but he misfired so badly that he was left standing by a hugely impressive and clinical Scott, who won in back to back weeks for the first time since he captured the Australian PGA and Australian Masters in 2013.

The question before the final round was whether McIlroy's putting would hold up under pressure as he led by three from Scott and playing partner Dustin Johnson, who crashed to a 79 that left him tied 14th.

Instead, his putting became nothing more than an afterthought as he went to the turn in two over par and dropped another shot at the 13th to fall two shots off the pace.

The fact that McIlroy did not hit an approach shot inside 30 feet until the 12th, where he hit a 40-yard pitch to nine feet and missed the birdie putt, said it all about his long game on a day of testing 20 mph gusts.

Having played the 12 par-fives in nine under par heading into the final round, McIlroy couldn't buy a birdie four last night and he had to hole a seven-footer just to save par at the downwind eighth after his approach ended up in the lake left of the green.

The Holywood star's first mistake came at the seventh, where he overshot the green and left himself an impossible chip, ending a run of 40 consecutive holes without a bogey.

When Watson dropped a 20-yard putt for eagle at the eighth, the Ulsterman's lead was down to one on 11 under and he was the only player at the top of the leaderboard without a birdie on his card.

A bunkered tee shot at the par-three ninth led to a bogey, leaving him in a four way tie for the lead with Willett, Mickelson and Watson.

While Watson soon took control, drilling home a 25-footer at the 12th for birdie to lead by one from McIlroy, Scott scorched up the leaderboard with birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th.

McIlroy made his first birdie of the day at the drivable 16th, smashing out to seven feet and holing the putt to get to within two of Scott on 10 under.

He had a chance to birdie the 17th and get within one but missed as Scott put himself behind a palm off the tee at the 18th and almost cut his approach into the lake, staying up miraculously.

Shane Lowry was disappointed with his putting but otherwise upbeat about where he is going with his career after he carded a one over 73 to finish tied for 35th on four over par.

By trying to make the Ryder Cup team via the European World Points list, he is vying with the likes of McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Willett and Sergio Garcia for five Ryder Cup places via the world rankings.

But he's embracing that challenge and confident that it will make him a better player in the long run.

"Listen, I really want to play the Ryder Cup but I am over here to get better as a player," said Lowry, who had a barren week on the greens. "Playing courses of this level week after week makes you a better player without even realising it.

"Obviously I want to make the Ryder Cup team but I am going to have to win a big tournament.

"That's the way it is. If I do, great. If I don't, I'll be very disappointed but that's the way golf is."

As for Graeme McDowell, he was heading for a top 15 finish at one under for the day and two under for the tournament until he ran up a quadruple bogey eight at the treacherous 18th, closing with a 75 to share 28th on two over.

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