Oakley’s Rory McIlroy missed the chance to become world number one when he lost to Hunter Mahan in the final of the WGC Match Play in Arizona on Sunday.
The 22-year-old US Open champion from Northern Ireland battled on the back nine before losing 2&1. Unfortunately, he could not repeat his heroics of earlier in the day when he fought back from three down after four holes to beat Lee Westwood in the semi-final.
“I played a great back nine but left too much work to do,” said McIlroy.
“There was a little stretch around five, six, seven and eight where I lost the match.”
The final was all-square after five holes but then Mahan took control by winning the next three holes.
McIlroy seemed to recover his composure on the back nine, pulled back two holes and had a great opportunity for an eagle on the 15th but he missed the putt and Mahan held his nerve to halve the hole in three.
“When I hit the tee shot on 15 I thought ‘here we go’ but Hunter made a good up and down and then I knew it would be tough after that,” said McIlroy.
“I’m happy with how I’m playing and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I win.”
Now he has his sights on the Masters, which starts on 5 April. He said: “I can’t wait. That’s what I’m building up to. I’ve got two events before the Masters and it would be nice to get a couple of good results before that.”
American Mahan was delighted with the way he held off one of the world’s best players.
“I felt great with my game coming in,” he said. “Rory is a great player, the best in the world right now. I knew he was going to make a charge and I’m pretty pleased with the way I held on.”
Defeat for Irishman McIlroy in Arizona means Englishman Luke Donald stays world number one.