DAVID LYNN gave Rory McIlroy a bag of spuds for his birthday but very nearly kept all the gravy for himself at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Lynn left his humorous birthday gift in McIlroy's locker at Quail Hollow on Saturday then upstaged the world No 2 and other megastars like Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood yesterday by forcing his way into sudden death.
Though ultimately beaten by fellow PGA Tour rookie Derek Ernst (23) on the first tie hole, Stoke native Lynn once again showed his class as the going got tough in miserably wet and cold conditions on one of the most challenging courses on the US circuit.
A sweet birdie at his 72nd hole in regulation clinched a place in extra time for Ernst on eight-under and a facile par four there on the first tie hole earned a life-changing victory for the Californian, who only got into the tournament as fourth alternate.
Ernst and Lynn might sound like the name of an accountancy firm but these two playing companions were majestic, particularly down the stretch, as they compiled two-under-par 70s.
At 39, Lynn once again showed what an amazing late developer he is. Famously second to McIlroy on his Majors debut at the US PGA last August, he finished fourth at the Honda Classic in March, and a first US Tour win does not seem far away.
After squandering three shots at 15 and 16 on Saturday, Mickelson once again ran out of steam in the closing stages of his final round. The left-hander made untidy bogeys at 16 and 17, signing for a 73 which left the Californian one stroke outside the play-off.
McIlroy endured an even more frustrating weekend on the course or, to be more precise, the badly scarred putting surfaces which threatened to make a lottery of this event.
Back-to-back rounds of 73, a whopping 18 shots shy of the blazing 66-62 climax to his maiden PGA Tour victory here in 2010, left McIlroy in a six-way tie for 10th on four-under with, among others, Ross Fisher (70) and Nick Watney (76), who shared the lead with Mickelson entering the final day.
Yet the Holywood star could have wrapped up this tournament on Saturday, his 24th birthday, had his putting not gone so badly awry.
Over four days at the North Carolina course, McIlroy missed 16 putts from inside nine feet. Of the eight that went a-begging from five feet or considerably less, no fewer than seven were in the third round, when he admitted he lost confidence in his stroke on the pock-marked greens.
One can't help feeling McIlroy tempted fate during his pre-tournament press conference when he said of those damaged putting surfaces: "I don't mind because I'm not a guy that relies on my putting, per se. So it will eliminate quite a lot of the field and I don't mind that at all."
Despite a clumsy three-putt bogey from 17 feet at the first yesterday, which put four strokes between McIlroy and overnight leaders Mickelson and Watney, he revived his victory prospects by holing a couple of crackers from 11 feet at the third and 13 feet at 14 for back-to-back birdies.
Another birdie at the par-five seventh propelled McIlroy to seven-under and he was still just one shy of joint-leaders Mickelson and Westwood as he marched to the 12th tee, despite a couple of wayward tee shots on the previous two holes.
His luck then ran out as he struggled to extricate himself from the trees on the right of the 456-yard par-four hole and he ultimately two-putted from 12 feet for a dispiriting six.
McIlroy's hopes of victory all but expired when he took three to get down from the right fringe on his way to a bogey four at 13. He holed out from seven feet for a defiant birdie at 16 but dropped another shot after driving into the trees to the right of 18.
Westwood had looked good for victory in his first tournament as a 40-year-old until his short game let him down. He failed to get up and down from the rough 35 yards short of the green to save par at 12 and then missed a five-foot putt on his way to another bogey at 13.
A nice birdie at 14 was cancelled out by another dropped shot out of the greenside bunker at 17, while he missed from 11 feet for birdie at the last.
Meanwhile, Brett Rumford secured the 31st back-to-back victory in European Tour history and became the first Australian to win on successive Sundays since Jack Newton in 1972 with a final-round 68 at the Volvo China Open yesterday.
Rumford (35) finished four strokes ahead of Mikko Ilonen at Binhai Lake.
Sadly, Damien McGrane's putter went cold over the weekend. After firing himself into contention with Friday's 66, rounds of 73 and 74 dropped the Kells man back into a share of 29th on two-under, worth €21,415.
Darren Clarke fared just as poorly on the greens at Royal Jakarta, a final-round 74 leaving him a lowly 56th on three-over in the Indonesian Masters. Bernd Wiesberger beat Ernie Els by one shot after back-to-back 67s eased him to 15-under par.
• Alan Dunbar made the cut for the first time as a pro after opening with a brace of 69s at the Montecchia Golf Open but weekend rounds of 73 and 72 dropped him back into a tie for 56th on one-under in this Challenge Tour event in Padova, Italy.
American Brooks Koepka, who followed Saturday's course-record 62 with a 66 yesterday, won by seven on 23-under. Simon Thornton shared 37th after yesterday's even-par 71, while Gareth Shaw's closing 76 left him one further back on three-under.
• Rathsallagh's Jack Hume lost to Finland's Albert Eckhard at the third extra hole in a play-off for the Lytham Trophy when his par putt lipped out at Royal Lytham & St Annes in Lancashire. The 19-year-old Hume, 22nd overnight, had the golfing day of his young life with rounds of 70 and 68.