Young matador Rory McIlroy got trampled by a raging bull when he went down by five holes to Masters champion Angel Cabrera in the first round of the Volvo World Match Play in Spain.
It was a crushing blow to the young Holywood star's confidence as the burly Argentinian reeled off five birdies in the last eight holes thanks to a deadly combination of prodigious hitting and deadly putting.
The result leaves McIlroy down but not out in the new round robin format with the 16-man field split into groups of four and the top man in each group progressing to tomorrow's semi-finals.
McIlroy is bottom of Group C and after a heavy defeat, he must hope he can beat Simon Dyson and Henrik Stenson today to have an realistic chance of qualifying for the last four.
“Angel made five birdies on the back nine there and I gave myself a few chances but just didn't quite get it done,” said McIlroy, who had an eight foot birdie putt to go two up at the seventh but three-putted instead to lose the hole to a par.
“The good thing is that I am still in it. I am not packing my bags and heading home.
“I have still got a chance, still got a bit of a lifeline.
“I will need to play well to try and get through to the semis.”
The match was back to all square and after that let off, the burly Argentinian bull had McIlroy on his horns and showed no mercy.
McIlroy never got back in front in the match again as two-time major winner Cabrera (40) birdied the par five 11th to go one up, extended his lead with a winning par at the short 12th and then birdied the 13th from short range to go three up.
McIlroy hit back by holing a six footer for a winning birdie at the 14th but Cabrera — nickname El Pato or The Duck — left McIlroy with a few ruffled feathers thanks to a stunning finish.
At the 16th he hit a glorious second to eight feet and holed for birdie to go three up, won the par three 17th with a birdie two and
chipped dead for a facile birdie win at the last, where McIlroy hit the flag with his bunker shot but saw his ball ricochet 15 feet away and couldn't halve the hole.
“I am very happy to have beaten a great player,” said Cabrera, who pointed to McIlroy's three putt at the seventh as the turning point in the match.
“What happened on the seventh has happened to me many times. This time it was the other way around. It was the turning point in the match. I really thought I was going two down there.
“Rory didn't have a great day but he's a great player. He can win any major. The Masters? Of course.
“He can win the British Open, the US Open. All the tournaments he wants. And he's a good kid.”
McIlroy's day began ominously when the buggy ferrying him to the first tee had a puncture and he arrived with little time to settle himself.
He shrugged off the incident and, unlike Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey, he still retains a genuine mathematical chance of coming out top in the group.
Dyson beat Stenson by three holes to lie second in the group behind Cabrera but there was carnage at the top of the Race to Dubai as pace- setter Lee Westwood lost by six holes to Jeev Milkha Singh.
Westwood has two matches today and is still alive but second ranked Kaymer and fourth ranked Casey cannot make the last four now after they slipped to defeat twice yesterday.
The big winner on the day was American bad boy Anthony Kim, who had two eagles and nine birdies as he beat Retief Goosen and Casey by four holes and three holes respectively.