On the weekend that Ian Poulter and Colin Montgomerie were allegedly separated in a trendy London eaterie by two members of Westlife, a young man who is clearly the future of the Europe Ryder Cup team saw a boy's own story blow up in his face.
Rory McIlroy would have become the youngest player to win in 32 years on the European Tour – since Seve Ballesteros in 1976 – had he not lost in sudden death to the unknown Frenchman, Jean-Francois Lucquin. It was a cruel finale to the European Masters in Crans-sur-Sierre for the 19-year-old from Holywood, Belfast. He missed an 18-inch putt on the second play-off hole for a bogey, although his blushes were spared somewhat by Lucquin holing his 12-foot effort for a birdie. "That made me feel a bit better," said McIlroy.
Victory would have given McIlroy a prize for £268,010 and a two-year exemption on Tour, although it is plain for all to see that neither money nor full playing rights will prove difficult to come by for this remarkable rookie. After making his name as an amateur at last year's Open at Carnoustie he is now living up to all the grand statements of the observers who welcomed him as the next big thing in golf.
Perhaps the biggest compliment about his play in the Swiss mountains was his own disgust at a runners-up finish that netted him nigh on £180,000 and took him a long way to meeting his season's objectives of finishing in the top 60 of the money list and of entering the world's top 100. He recognises that he was a mere five-foot putt away from becoming the third youngest winner in European Tour history yesterday – before watching it all go horribly wrong.
It happened on the 72nd hole when he failed to convert a par putt that would have given him his first professional triumph. McIlroy then had another chance to take the title at the start of sudden death. However, his 15-foot attempt missed as well and, hard though it was to believe, worse was to follow. Playing the 405-yard 18th for the third time he hit a 25-foot birdie putt 18 inches past the cup and incredibly missed that too. Lucquin, 12 feet away, suddenly had victory in his grasp and with two for it needed only one to lift his first European Tour title in 175 attempts. The 29-year-old was ranked 460th in the world at the start of the week, and at 127th on the Order of Merit was fighting for his card.
Lucquin's joy was in stark contrast to McIlroy's misery. "Obviously I am very disappointed," said McIlroy. "I got very unlucky on the 18th in regulation, where it got a pretty big bounce for a sand wedge. I hit a good chip, but not a very good putt. Then second time around in the play-off it didn't really matter as he holed his. I suppose I can take a lot from this week – I played very well all week and played well coming down the stretch, but unfortunately one bad shot cost me. C'est la vie."
That is a mature approach Poulter and Montgomerie would be wise to adopt, if the reports in the News of the World are accurate of their stand-up row at the restaurant Zuma on Friday night. Dining separately, Poulter was supposed to have spotted his nemesis and the pair apparently then embarked on an expletive-filled argument over Nick Faldo's wild-card picks. Onlookers said Montgomerie was telling Poulter that he should have come over to Scotland for last week's Johnnie Walker Championship to play his way on to the team by right, while Poulter countered by telling Montgomerie to mind his own business. And then Poulter's dining fellows, Brian McFadden and Nicky Byrne of Westlife fame, had to intervene. Paul Azinger must be trembling with fear.