Rory McIlroy continues to fight the final-group blues at Bay Hill

GOLF FEATURE: Just when will the Sunday final-group curse end for Rory McIlroy? 

Andy Roberts's picture
Mon, 11 Mar 2019
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There was little anyone could do to stop Italy's Francesco Molinari surging through the field with a stunning 8-under 64 and landing the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but Sunday marked a NINTH consecutive time since the start of 2018 that Rory McIlroy failed to convert a final round group into a win.


 

McIlroy, 29, started the final round at Bay Hill just one stroke behind Matthew Fitzpatrick, but went on to shoot a lacklustre level-par 72 to finish in a tie for sixth on 8-under par and four strokes adrift of the reigning Open champion.

An early birdie at the third when curling home a 30-footer sent McIlroy into a tie for the lead with the Englishman, but bogeys at seven and 15 in amongst a string of pars dashed any hopes the former World No.1 had of defending his title and sealing a 15th PGA Tour title.

While clearly an ongoing frustration for the Northern Irishman, he is - to his credit - remaining upbeat after locking up a fifth consecutive top-six finish on the PGA Tour in 2019.

"My Sundays haven't been what I would have liked but I'm putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf," said McIlroy, who last won on the PGA Tour at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational last March, incidentally coming from behind and in the penultimate group to win. 

"It was a tough day, tough to get it close to the hole. I feel like I really didn't play that badly. I missed a couple of shots, but I felt like I was hitting good shots to 30 feet all day and it's hard to sort of shoot a score."

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However, NINE consecutive times without a victory when in the hunt in the final group on Sunday isn't good enough for McIlroy - and deep down, he knows it.

The World No.6 does appear to be turning a corner at least from the inconsistencies of recent years, but squandering the chance of a W does appear a recurring theme for the four-time major champion who is now winless anywhere around the world for more than 12 months. 

In fact the last time McIlroy converted a Sunday final group into a win came in May 2016 when clinching his last European Tour title at the Irish Open.

And when it comes to  the PGA Tour - where McIlroy is basing himself for the majority of 2019 - you have to go all the way back to May 2015 for the last time the Ulsterman converted a final group into a win when sprinting clear by seven strokes at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Of course, the most notable of McIlroy's last nine final-group no-shows came at The Masters last April.

With the demons of his 2011 collapse (where he shot a final-round 80) still clearly somewhere on his mind, McIlroy - who trailed by three strokes entering Sunday - failed to put early heat on Reed and eventually stumbled to a 74 as he watched his playing partner collect the one title he so desperately craves in order to join golf's elite and lock up the career Grand Slam. 

Had that small eagle putt dropped at the par-5 second, who knows what might have happened?

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Other standout poor final-round performances from McIlroy last season came at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth - when he was the only player in the top seven not to break 70 - as the European Tour's eventual Race to Dubai champion Molinari landed the spoils yet again in front of him.

McIlroy also went backwards in the final group at the BMW Championship in September despite shooting a 68 on a low day of scoring, and while he found himself in the penultimate group when signing Tiger Woods' victorious card at the Tour Championship also that month, he shot a round of 74 for the second worst score of the day at East Lake to finish tied seventh.

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There was little McIlroy could do to keep pace with a fast-finishing Xander Schauffele at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii at the start of 2019, with the American shooting a sensational 62, however the manner of his Sunday final-group 72 left a bitter pill to swallow given it was the worst final-day score of the leading 21 players in the field. 

McIlroy also fell out the blocks during his final-round tussle with Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship last month -  albeit with an unfortunate break behind a tree stump - only to rally too late on the closing holes to lock up solo second.

The game is clearly there for all to see right now following a fifth consecutive top-six finish on Tour, but this isn't your average golfer. This is Rory McIlroy, golf's poster boy who is expected to win just about every week he tees it up. 

Podium finishes may help top up his bulging bank balance, but they mean little in the grand scheme of things. It's all about the trophies and a certain Green Jacket for a man who has already enjoyed so much success in his 10 years on Tour with 23 professional wins around the globe. 

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Rather than dwell on another missed opportunity to open the trophy cabinet for the first time in 12 months, McIlroy admits he is ready to get back in the saddle at this week's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

"I'm playing well, I'm getting myself into contention every week," he said.

"I just need to continue to do that, that's the great thing about golf, you don't have to wait too long to get back on the horse."

Just like the leading jockeys (and punters) at Cheltenham this week, McIlroy will be very much hoping he doesn't fall again at the final hurdle.

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