Seven days can feel like an eternity in golf.
Ask Rory McIlroy, who left London last Sunday week with the BMW PGA title and his US Open prospects soaring but yesterday faced concern for his fitness after a worrying week at Memorial.
Though McIlroy came from seven behind to win at Wentworth, any prospect of him bridging a six-stroke chasm to overnight leader Bubba Watson at Muirfield Village quickly evaporated in the Ohio sunshine.
The 25-year-old Ulsterman’s putting, seemingly invincible as he tore apart the pride of tournament host Jack Nicklaus with Thursday’s scintillating 63, was problematic yesterday as McIlroy scrabbled for confidence and consistency.
Nicklaus had the last laugh as Masters champion Watson (72) and World No 1 Adam Scott (71) fell apart down the stretch, leaving Hideki Matsuyama (69, courtesy of a fourth successive birdie at 18) and Kevin Na (64) tied on 13-under.
Hot Japanese prospect Matsuyama, 22, won this demolition derby and his first PGA Tour title with a fabulous par out of a fairway bunker on the first tie hole after Na drove into the stream left of the fairway.
McIlroy’s week turned on the seventh fairway in the first round when he painfully ricked his knee as he hit a full-blooded 3-wood.
While a spectacular haul of two eagles and seven birdies on Thursday suggested the damage was minor and McIlroy himself insisted it had no bearing on Friday’s calamitous 78, not even an encouraging 69 on Saturday completely dispelled doubts.
Concern was inevitable once again yesterday as McIlroy stalled on the opening holes, needing to hole decent putts to save par at two and three before dropping his first shot of a lack-lustre day out of a greenside bunker at the short fourth.
Hopes for the Holywood native rallied as he holed from seven feet for birdie four at five; flickered again with a three-putt bogey at six; rose momentarily with another birdie four at seven then fell when he took three putts from 18 feet for bogey at nine and turned in one-over.
This dizzying see-saw ride continued for the next three holes, though McIlroy showed his fighting spirit had not been sapped as he birdied 15 and 17, the latter on the back of a monster 362-yard drive which suggested the knee damage can’t be all that bad.
Yet as a closing 72 left McIlroy on six-under and outside the top-10 for the first time in six tournaments, that knee-tweak, if not particularly painful, clearly cramped his style and drained that Wentworth mojo.
Henrik Stenson frittered away a splendid chance to leapfrog Adam Scott to the top of the world and disappointed some 30,000 fellow countrymen in Malmo during a disappointing final round 71 at the Nordea Masters.
Leading comfortably on 16-under after birdies on three of his opening five holes yesterday, Stenson stalled with two bogeys before the turn.
He slumped into a share of fifth on 14-under, a bogey at 18 leaving him two outside a play-off won by Thongchai Jaidee.
After his closing 65, Jaidee beat Victor Dubuisson of France (67), fit after five weeks out with shoulder trouble, and Scot Stephen Gallacher (68) on 18, the first tie hole, with birdie.
The teak-tough 44-year-old Thai earned €250,000 for his sixth European Tour victory.
Michael Hoey banked €18,650 in 18th on eight-under after a 67, while Shane Lowry’s 66 belied the fatigue of 12 rounds in 13 days and clinched a share of 25th, worth €14,700, on six-under par.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie (67) and Waterford’s Kevin Phelan (70) both earned €9,150 in 40th on four-under, while back-to-back 74s at the weekend sent Gareth Maybin tumbling to 67th (€3,150) on two-over.