Frustration for Rory McIlroy as Cameron Young advances to WGC Match Play final

Two up with three to play, the Irishman was eventually pipped on the 19th when he failed to match the American’s birdie

The mind-defying logic of matchplay golf found its victim.

Rory McIlroy had destiny in his own hands – two up with three holes to play in his semi-final with Cameron Young – only for it to slip away, like sand slipping through fingers, as the Northern Irishman failed to take the extra steps towards a second career win in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in Texas.

Ultimately, McIlroy disappointedly suffered a sudden-death loss at the 19th hole to the 25-year-old American and, although his efforts ensured he moved back up to the world number two in the updated rankings, it was definitely a case of leaving the win behind him.

“Feeling, obviously, pretty bad,” remarked McIlroy with honesty on losing a match he had so firmly in his grasp for so long.


McIlroy had fallen one hole behind after losing the fourth hole but bounced back strongly with a birdie on the fifth to level matters and then moved one-up when birdieing the sixth.

He moved two holes clear with a 10-footer for birdie on the ninth. After suffering a water ball with his second on the Par 5 12th to see his lead reduced to one hole, McIlroy bounced back with a birdie on the 13th, from five feet, to move two clear with three to play.

Then, the road got rocky. And rockier. McIlroy drove into a fairway bunker on the Par 5 16th and couldn’t match Young’s birdie. One hole in it.

Then, on the 18th, where McIlroy had hit his wonder drive against Denny McCarthy in the group phase, the hole got its revenge when his drive flew into rough alongside one of the bunkers guarding the approach to the green.

In executing the pitch shot, McIlroy’s clubface twisted in the clinging grass and he finished 35 feet from the pin. He failed with the birdie putt; while Young coolly sank his eight-footer to tie the match and force extra holes.

On the designated first hole of sudden death – the Par 5 12th – McIlroy appeared to have the advantage off the tee when his drive somehow stayed out of a fairway bunker while Young’s tee shot cruelly finished under the lip of the same sand trap.

Young could only pitch out to the fairway, then – forced to play aggressively – hit his third to 10 feet. McIlroy’s approach had finished short right of the green and he pitched to nine feet. Young sank his birdie putt. McIlroy missed, and that it that. Young marched on to a final with Sam Burns who defeated world number one Scottie Scheffler at the 21st hole.

“Cam played great,” acknowledged McIlroy, adding: “He made a hell of a birdie [in sudden death] after getting an unlucky break with the tee shot. I just didn’t do enough over those last four holes to close him out and when you don’t do that and you’re up against a player of Cam’s calibre that’s what going to happen. [It’s]) disappointing.”

Young’s status as one of the stars of the new generation was enhanced.

“It’s just further proof that I feel like I can hang with anybody in the world. Rory’s obviously one of the best of his generation, if not the best, and one of the best players in the world right now. Anytime you can go out and play 19 holes with him it’s a lot of fun, I’m just thankful to get it done.”

For McIlroy, it means he will head to the Masters in Augusta National without that second WGC-Dell Technologies title he’d hoped to bring with him as momentum.

However, there will also be the confidence that the equipment changes – a new driver with shorter shaft, a new Scotty Cameron putter and a new wedge – have worked as he heads into his next opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam.

In the Joburg Open on the DP World Tour, Germany’s Nick Bacem claimed a breakthrough win with a final round 64 for a total of 24-under-par 264, four strokes clear of South Africans Hennie de Plessis and Zander Lombard. Tom McKibbin finished in tied-71st.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times