Friday 20 April 2018

Rory McIlroy claims he left himself with too much to do in epic battle for world’s top spot

Missing out: Rory McIlroy needed to beat Hunter Mahan to top the world rankings
Missing out: Rory McIlroy needed to beat Hunter Mahan to top the world rankings

RORY McIlroy admitted he didn't have his best game with him during the Accenture Match Play Championship which saw him miss out on the chance to leapfrog Luke Donald in the world standings.

McIlroy needed to beat Hunter Mahan to take the number one spot but suffered a 2&1 defeat. The 22 year-old played the last seven holes of the match in five under par with an eagle and three birdies, but that all came after he had three bogeys and a double-bogey in a front-nine 39.

"I just left myself too much to do," McIlroy said, whose next chance to dethrone Donald comes in this week's Honda Classic in Florida.

"It wasn't to be, but I didn't have my best game with me this week."

There was still plenty to admire over the weekend, though, not least his semi-final win over Lee Westwood, who finished the event with double defeat after having also lost the third-place play-off to Mahan's compatriot Mark Wilson.

Westwood led McIlroy by three after four, but the youngster hit back with six birdies in eight holes and won 3&1.

"I'm happy with how I'm playing and hopefully it won't be long before I'm winning again," added McIlroy. "I've got two more tournaments before The Masters and that's what I'm building up to."

It was at Augusta last April, of course, that he led by four with a round to go and then crashed to an 80.

The disappointment of that was more than made up for by winning his first major title only two months later, but becoming the youngest-ever winner of a World Golf Championship since they began in 1999 would have been another feather in his cap.

Mahan now has two of them. He won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron in 2010, although that was rather forgotten two months later when his defeat to Graeme McDowell at Celtic Manor handed Europe the Ryder Cup.

Nobody can say he had an easy path to the trophy last week. He beat three of his cup team-mates in Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar, former USPGA champion YE Yang, Wilson and then McIlroy.

And he said afterwards: "It feels good. I didn't realise how difficult it is to win this week because it is six matches and you're playing against the best players in the world."

And he believes McIlroy is destined to top the rankings sooner or later, and joked: "Deep down I wanted to postpone that crowning of the number one player in the world for Rory.

"He'll get there. He's phenomenal, he's really talented. He'll be number one eventually."

Westwood said after his semi-final loss: "I think we both played well - it was just one of those typical match play games that went a lot with momentum."

He considered the long 11th critical. The Ulsterman's wild second shot was heading for the desert and possibly out of bounds, but hit a cart path and finished on grass near the green. It was halved in birdies.

"That sort of thing can change a match," said Westwood. "Go back to level there, it's a different kettle of fish. I thought it was big turning point.

"But I'm playing great. I've shot four or five under every day and that's pretty good golf."

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