But, obviously, it didn’t turn out that way. The wheels slowly started to wobble, and McIlroy, like so many others, fell victim to the notorious Bear Trap, carding a double-bogey on the par-4 16th and a bogey on the par-3 17th.
Rory ended up shooting a four-over 74 and eventually lost in a four-way playoff, where Russell Henley came out the victor, with a birdie on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th.
Despite his collapse, Rory walked away from PGA National with positives, speaking throughout the week about trust and confidence in his game. He simply didn’t play well enough to win and even considered himself somewhat lucky to have made it into a playoff.
“I counted myself very fortunate just to be in the playoff,” said McIlroy, candidly. “I didn’t play well enough at all to deserve to win this tournament. Just didn’t just was a little bit wasn’t in control of my golf ball coming down the stretch. But you know, still had a chance — I had a putt to win the tournament on 18 and didn’t quite do it. Just had an awkward distance for my second in the playoff, and then a couple awkward lies and couldn’t make birdie.
“But look, it’s been a decent week. Get myself into contention again, it’s my third stroke play event of the year and third time I’ve been in contention with a chance to win. I haven’t been able to sort of walk through that door but I feel like the more times I knock on that door, I’ll eventually step through it. This week wasn’t to be but hopefully I can get myself back in a similar position and try to do a better job.”
McIlroy hit one of the greatest — if not, the best — shots of the tournament on the 72nd hole from 245 yards with a five-wood, reaching the par-5 18th in two and leaving himself with a 10-footer for eagle to win.
He missed the putt, but he showed guts with that shot and gave himself a chance to win in regulation.
“Coming down the stretch, I went for it on 14. 15, 16, 17 didn’t play so well, and obviously I only had one option at the last, which was to try to go straight at the pin and I was able to do that,” said Rory.
“I just didn’t hit the ball close enough today or give myself many opportunities to really distance myself from the pack.
“Look, it’s a good finish, second runner-up in the season, stringing a lot of top 10s and stuff. So there’s a few positives to take, but obviously it’s going to be hard to get over because I had a great chance to win my first tournament of the season and I didn’t.”
McIlroy even admitted that his play was so poor that it wasn’t worthy of the win.
“74 today wasn’t good enough to get the job done,” he said. “You know, even if I had of won, it would have felt a little bit undeserved in a way.
“So when you go out with a two-shot lead, you have to play well and you have to go out and win the thing, and if you had of won today, I would have counted myself very lucky. Just got to pick myself up, get back at it and try and get myself back into contention at Doral next week and try and get the job done then.”
McIlroy finished his media commitments and then he walked over to his fiancee Caroline Wozniacki, where the two shared a long embrace and strolled off together toward the parking lot with the last bit of daylight quickly fading.
(Photo by Getty Images)