Thing is about the latter, McIlroy and Mickelson individually made costly errors over the weekend that naturally caused them to squander a victory.
During the third round on the second hole, Rory’s ball ended up in a spectator crossing, where he was permitted relief. McIlroy took the relief, but unfortunately, he failed to take “full relief” from the area. In other words, he took a drop, but his stance was still in the spectator crossing from which he was taking relief.
After the round, he was advised by Dave Renwick, the veteran caddie of McIlroy’s pairing partner, Ricardo Gonzalez, not to sign his scorecard because of a possible rules breach. Turned out Renwick was correct and Rory had accidentally committed a rules infraction, which cost him two shots.
While a video review was inconclusive, McIlroy hopped in a golf cart and revisited the scene with referee John Paramor. When they located his old divot in the grass and recreated his stance as he hit the shot, McIlroy realised he had broken the rule.
McIlroy’s left foot was still on the chalk line marking the crossing walkway, technically deemed ground under repair. Worse, when he took the free drop, the ball came to rest in an awful lie and he failed to make a birdie on the par-5 hole.
“It’s disappointing because I didn’t gain any advantage by my foot being on a bit of white paint,” said McIlroy, who fell three shots off the lead and into a tie for fourth place.
Naturally, McIlroy was seething following the result of his silly mistake:
“There are a lot of stupid rules in golf,” McIlroy said, “and this is one of them.”
“I am going to go hit the gym so hard, for about an hour, and try to run myself into the ground,” he said.
He sounded like he might run the field into the turf today, too. Nothing like a little added venom.
“It gives me a little extra motivation,” he said.
McIlroy went from posting a four-under 68 to a two-under 70. Then, on Sunday in the final round he played beautifully again and matched his four-under 68 to finish at 13-under. Problem was, Larrazabal had shot one stroke lower, a five-under 67, to post a total of 14-under.
Which made Saturday’s blunder quite expensive and even more annoying.
‘‘I can’t describe how frustrating it is and feeling like I should be standing here at 15 under par for the tournament and winning by one,’’ McIlroy said. ‘‘It is a very positive start to the season so I’m not to let one little negative ruin that.”
Meanwhile, during the trophy presentation, Rory had someone to commiserate with on a foolhardy loss — none other than Phil Mickelson.
Let’s see, where do I start? Phil pulled a classic Phil.
Heading into the 13th hole in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Mickelson held a one-shot lead, but then disaster materialized as Lefty sliced a three-wood into the desert. His ball ended up under a cluster of gangly bushes. He didn’t have a stance to play it as he normally would, left-handed, so Phil, a gambling man, tried the miracle shot — which, mind you, would have been awesome had he pulled it off.
Mickelson turned the club head of a 4-iron around to play the shot right-handed. The result? Well, he ended up barely making contact with the ball, except it managed to hit his club twice, which constitutes a double-hit and cost him an extra shot.
Here’s the video of the hand-in-your-face incident:
From there, Mickelson could only salvage a triple-bogey 7. He deserves props for his comeback attempt after that disaster, rolling in birdies on three of the final five holes. Unfortunately, Phil’s effort came up just one shot short of getting into a playoff.
“I was just trying to dribble it out around the bush,” Mickelson told EuropeanTour.com. “When it hit the club, not only did it cost me a penalty stroke, but it also stopped the ball from going to a spot where I could hit it again.”
However, Lefty remained positive about the snafu.
“I started off very poorly the first day and I progressed all the way through to where I struck the ball very well today,” said Mickelson,who will kick off his PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines this week.
Mickelson eased the pain and commiserated with McIlroy by cracking jokes during the trophy presentation. Meanwhile, the champion Larrazabal said it was surreal to be standing there next to Mickelson and McIlroy.
“I was sitting at the presentation ceremony I said to myself: ‘Pablo? What are you doing here?’ I’ve got Rory McIlroy on my left and I am shaking the hand of Phil Mickelson on my right. It’s very special for me,” added Larrazabal after collecting the trophy.
“But it’s been a long journey and a lot of work since my last win in Munich, and only my team and my family know how hard I have worked for this victory with no holidays, and not too many days off this winter, just working hard to arrive here properly and in form to Abu Dhabi. So, yes happy days.”
Hats off to Larrazabal, although the tournament will probably be more remembered for Phil’s antics and Rory’s rules gaffe. At the same time, I don’t think the champion minds too much.