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Another major slips by McIlroy

Rory McIlroy headed off on holiday today reflecting on another major that got away.

One month ago, the 21-year-old Ulsterman led the British Open after an opening 63 and came third. Last night he was tied for the lead with four holes to play in the USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits, but three-putted the 15th and -- by missing a 15-foot chance on the last -- finished a stroke behind play-off pair Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

McIlroy, also third in the event last August, said: "I just needed to find one more shot in any of the four days -- it's disappointing.

"It's the first time I've been in contention in the last round of a major, going out in the second last group. I was feeling it on the first tee and it was a new experience. It will stand me in good stead in the future.

"It's not a bad week, but I would have liked a little bit better.

"I stayed very patient and didn't let anything get to me or my head drop once, which was one of the main objectives.

"It was a tough day and I felt I handled myself well. I feel in myself I am ready to win one."

McIlroy has to wait until next April's Masters for the next chance, but he has the FedEx Cup play-offs coming up -- and then his Ryder Cup debut.

Who will be alongside him at Celtic Manor in six weeks remains to be seen.

He knows there will be Lee Westwood, providing he recovers from the ruptured calf muscle, US Open champion Graeme McDowell, USPGA winner Kaymer and Ian Poulter, providing he recovers from the chest complaint that led to him pulling out yesterday.

England's Ross Fisher and Italian Francesco Molinari are close to making sure, but the remaining two automatic spots and three wild cards are going to be fascinating in the final two weeks of the race.

Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Casey, thanks to his 12th place yesterday, are eighth and ninth on the table, but Casey is not coming back to Europe and cannot therefore add to his total.

Pádraig Harrington is less than £1,000 behind him -- £1,132,930 to Casey's £1,133,880 -- but he is not playing any more counting events either because he also wants to play the FedEx Cup play-offs as well and they do not count. Nor is two-time US Tour winner Justin Rose. There is no point for him now because he is too far back.

And, unless he has a late change of mind, nor is Luke Donald, who was knocked out of a qualifying spot by Kaymer's win.

Europe captain Colin Montgomerie has three wild cards to hand out on Sunday night. Harrington, Rose and Donald all need one, but Casey and Molinari's brother and World Cup-winning partner Edoardo might be in the same boat and that is the nightmare scenario.

Two years ago Poulter was heavily criticised for not returning. Casey, Donald and Harrington -- ninth, 10th and 18th in the world -- can now expect more of the same.

As for Kaymer, it has been some 12 months for the German golfer -- from breaking toes to breaking his major duck. And make that Ryder Cup golfer now. The 25-year-old's dramatic and controversial victory at Whistling Straits last night guarantees him a first cap.

The drama was his play-off victory over left-hander Watson, clinched with a bogey five at the last after the American had gone in the water with his second shot.

"It's just amazing -- I don't realise what has just happened," beamed Kaymer, who was out of action for two months after a go-kart crash this time last year.

"I just won my first major and I am just on Tour for four years. I have goosebumps.

"I cannot win anything bigger. The majors are the biggest tournaments we play, this was toughest field all year and just knowing that I can win like that gives me huge confidence for any other tournament I will play for the rest of my career."

The controversy, though, belonged to Watson's soon-to-be Ryder Cup team-mate Dustin Johnson. Two months after throwing the US Open away with a closing 82, he led by one with one to play, but bogeyed and then instead of going into the three-hole shoot-out with the other two was given a two-shot penalty.

His "crime" was to ground his club on sand before playing his second shot, unaware that where his ball had finished was deemed a bunker.

"It never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap," stated Johnson, clearly stunned.

"I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down. If it was up to me I wouldn't have thought I was in a bunker -- but it's not up to me."

The players were given a rulesheet explaining the situation on a course that has as many as 1,200 bunkers, but Johnson added: "Maybe I should have looked a little harder.

"I only look at it if I have a reason to and I didn't see I had a reason to."

It cost the 26-year-old the chance of a first major, but Kaymer's triumph still means that six of the last seven winners have been first-timers. And two of the last three, of course, have been Europeans -- Ireland's Graeme McDowell being the one to take advantage of Johnson's collapse at Pebble Beach.

With Johnson being relegated to fifth, McIlroy moved up to joint third -- the same position he occupied last year and in The Open at St Andrews last month.

Kaymer expressed real sympathy for Johnson.

"I don't know if sad is the right word, but I was a little bit shocked," he commented. "Can you imagine if he would have made that (six-foot) putt on 18? He would have thought he won the golf tournament.

"On this golf course it was very tough to see what is a bunker and what is not a bunker. He played great golf. He's a very nice guy. He didn't do it on purpose."

Johnson played the final round with Nick Watney, who like him at the US Open had a three-stroke lead and imploded.

Watney double-bogeyed the first, triple-bogeyed the seventh and finished with an 81. It dropped him to 18th and meant he did not qualify automatically for the Ryder Cup.

Now he must wait until September 7 to see if he receives a wild card from captain Corey Pavin.