'Just chill out' - Rory McIlroy turns his attentions to Augusta after early WGC Match Play exit
Rory McIlroy turned his attention to completing the career grand slam by winning the Masters after his bid for a second WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play title came to a disappointing early end.
McIlroy needed to beat American left-hander Brian Harman to have a chance of reaching the last 16 in Austin, but gifted his opponent several holes on his way to a comprehensive 5&3 defeat.
The 2015 champion, who came into the event on the back of a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, made a mess of the third, fifth and ninth to fall three down and a conceded birdie on the 10th was matched by Harman from eight feet.
Another birdie on the next extended Harman's lead and although he gave McIlroy a glimmer of hope by finding water with his approach to the 12th, there was to be no way back for the four-time major winner.
"Obviously a couple of days extra at home that I wasn't planning on," McIlroy said in quotes reported by GolfWeek. "Just chill out, rest up a little bit, recharge the batteries, get into the gym. Sort of have a good week training and a good practice week. And just get myself ready for Augusta."
Harman, who ended the group stage unbeaten with two and a half points from three matches, told PGA Tour Live: "You can actually gain a little bit of an advantage if you're first coming into the green and for me I've played with Rory enough times to know that I can't keep up with him off the tee box.
"But I can hit it plenty far to be aggressive into these greens so for me it was about playing my game and hitting the tee shots that I was capable of."
Harman's win meant he topped the group ahead of compatriot Peter Uihlein, who beat McIlroy on day one and Jhonattan Vegas 4&3 on Friday.
Elsewhere, Ian Poulter took another step towards qualifying for the Masters after opponent Kevin Chappell withdrew from their match due to a back injury.
Poulter, who was three up after eight holes when Chappell called it a day, needs to reach at least the quarter-finals to have a chance of climbing into the world's top 50 by Monday's deadline.
Fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton also reached the last 16 by beating Brendan Steele on the first hole of a play-off, Hatton having lost to Charley Hoffman after Steele beat Alexander Levy.
But Paul Casey lost his play-off to Kyle Stanley on the second hole after being beaten by Matt Fitzpatrick, with Stanley edging past Russell Henley on the 18th.
Justin Thomas, who can replace defending champion Dustin Johnson as world number one with a victory, thrashed Francesco Molinari 7&5 to join Sergio Garcia, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Charles Howell, Patrick Reed and Alex Noren as advancing to the knockout stage with perfect 3-0 records.
The clash between Ryder Cup team-mates Reed and Jordan Spieth failed to live up to the hype, Spieth's opening drive out of bounds setting the tone for a scrappy contest which Reed won 2&1 with a lengthy birdie on the 17th.