Misfiring Rory McIlroy bows out of WGC early
Graeme McDowell recovers again to book a third round meeting with Hunter Mahan
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland on the eighth green during the second round of the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championship at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy refused to beat himself up despite getting gunned down in the desert by American sharpshooter Harris English in the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain.
As Graeme McDowell completed another magical comeback, rallying from two down with four to play to beat the talented Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama one up by holing a gutsy eight footer at the last, McIlroy bit the dust at the 19th having paid dearly for his mistakes against a 24-year old American who simply did not put a foot wrong all day.
The Holywood star missed a four putts inside 10 feet and then hit a couple of wild drives into the desert to find himself two down with five to play.
He then displayed the kind of class that saw him become world number one two years ago when he sensationally birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th to go one up before English hit back with a birdie from 19 feet at the 17th to level the match and take it to the 18th.
But after halving that one in pars, it was McIlroy who threw it all away at the first extra hole, pulling his drive into the rough and his second into the desert.
From there he overshot the green, chipped to 25 feet and missed his bogey putt before conceding to English, who had chipped to three feet after coming up short of the green in two.
“Obviously a little bit disappointed with how I finished,” McIlroy said. “Being two down with five to go, playing the last five holes like I did, I was happy about that.
“I didn’t hit the greatest drive off the 19th and got a pretty bad lie in the rough. It was just unfortunate. I played pretty well for the most part. A couple of loose drives on the back nine to give him a couple of holes.
“But, you know, he played really solid today and didn’t really do much wrong, didn’t really give me anything. So the more consistent player won at the end of the day.”
English said: “Rory is an unbelievable player, and has seemed to have found his game the last couple of months. I knew going into it I was going to have to bring my “A” game and put a lot of pressure on him to end up taking the victory.”
The two-time major winner could have been a couple up with eight holes to go but instead found himself all square after missing four putts inside 10 feet.
A wild push into the desert at the par-five 11th forced him to take a penalty drop and he ended up conceding the hole to go two down.
He hit back with a birdie from 10 feet at the par-three 12th but another wild tee shot sailed right into the desert at the par-five 13th and after taking two to get back into the semi-rough, he ended up two putting for bogey to go two down again.
A wild push into the desert at the par-five 11th forced him to take a penalty drop and he ended up conceding the hole to go two down but then won four of the next five holes.
After hitting back with a birdie from 10 feet at the par-three 12th, another wild tee shot sailed right into the desert at the par-five 13th and bogeyed to two down again.
The former world number one was in danger of an early exit for the second year in a row but he showed is class, hitting an eight iron to six feet and converting for birdie at the 14th.
At the driveable par-four 15th he elected a three wood and got up and down from right of the green to square the match after English had chipped weakly.
Then at the 235-yard 16th, he hit a stunning mid-iron to four feet and rolled in the putt for his third two of the day and a one up lead.
“I hit a couple of really good iron shots in that stretch,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to produce those shots when I sort of needed to. It was just unfortunate I couldn’t keep it going. I’m very comfortable with my game.
“I don’t feel in any way disappointed leaving so early, because I feel like my game is there. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks.”
McDowell was three down after six after Matsuyama birdied the first, chipped in for eagle at the second and won the sixth with par-three to streak ahead.
But he hit back with a birdies at the seventh and eighth to turn one down and despite losing the 14th to a par to go two down again, he produced another great fightback.
After holing an eight footer at the 15th to get back to one day, he holed a 12 footer for a half in par at the 16th, a five footer for a winning birdie at the 17th and an eight footer for a chip and putt winning par at the last.
American Hunter Mahan is next up for the Portrush golfer, who felt “very fortunate” to have made it that far.
“You know, why do it the easy way when the hard way will do,” McDowell joked afterwards. “I made big putts on 15 and 16 — the 16th especially was a massive putt to give me the opportunity to be only one down with two to play rather than two down.
“I feel very fortunate again today. I’ve certainly expended all my energy and emotions the last couple of days. But thankfully it’s early in the season and I’ve plenty left in the tank.”
As for his rematch with 2012 champion Mahan, his victim at Celtic Manor in Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup victory, he smiled and said: “There’s a decent chance he might be out for a shade of revenge tomorrow, who knows. It’s been a long time. A lot of water under the bridge since 2010.
“He’s a quality player. He’s got a great record around this golf course. He’s going to be a tough nut to crack. But I certainly feel I’ve had a pretty good workout the last couple of days, and I should be in good shape going into tomorrow.”