Rory McIlroy starting to find magic touch again
Second place doesn't sound bad but World No 6 Rory McIlroy still fell below his stellar best in finishing runner-up to Sung-hoon Kang as the Kolon Korea Open came to a hugely controversial climax.
No doubt ring-rust, accumulated over his month-long break from competitive golf, played its part but McIlroy is still plagued by an unsettling tendency to shoot himself in the foot, although he did show glimpses of the old magic.
The 24-year-old's victory hopes were dealt a severe blow by Saturday's four-over-par 75, which left him 10 off the pace going into the final day, though fate and an encouraging fourth-round 67 would leave the Ulsterman within one stroke of the winner in a five-way tie for second.
Incredibly, the outcome of this OneAsia event would be determined by a hugely contentious rules issue when overnight leader Kim Hyung-tae was penalised two shots just as he appeared to be marching to victory.
Kim stood on the 17th tee with an apparent two-shot lead when he was approached by a rules official who informed him and playing partner Hong Soon-sang they had both grounded a club in an area deemed to be a hazard on the 13th. So what they thought were fours were actually sixes.
The pair finished their round but before signing their scorecards they returned to the 13th and spent nearly two hours in deep discussion with officials, who also repeatedly consulted TV footage of the incident.
Kim argued that he had never grounded his club, but was eventually persuaded to sign for a six by the Korean Golf Association rules committee, who had voted 5-3 against him, judging him to have violated rule 13.4.
The resulting 77 left him at three-under for a share of second place, one shot behind champion Kang but alongside two-time Major winner McIlroy, Lee Sang-hee, Mo Joong-kyung and amateur Lee Chang-woo. It was a bizarre end at the exacting 7,198-yard Woo Jeong Hills Country Club near Cheonan, south of Seoul, but Kang (26) winner of the Korean Tour's CJ Invitational last week, walked away with the $280,000 first prize.
McIlroy had left the course before the rules rumpus started. Having posted a final-round 64 here in 2011 as he finished second behind runaway winner Rickie Fowler, he rued another round of missed opportunities yesterday.
"I could have shot anything, absolutely anything," he said.
"I only missed two greens and had so many chances, but it was like the story of (Saturday) – I just didn't hole enough putts."
Sadly, McIlroy's third round was marred by one of his trademarks this season, a double-bogey six. After hitting his tee-shot right into trouble off the tee at the 11th, the Holywood native did well to leave himself a three-foot putt for bogey but missed it for his second double of the week.
Still, McIlroy also played some breathtaking golf in Korea, which augurs well for the five tournaments he now plays in a busy end-of-season schedule.
"I feel my game is in good shape going into the next few weeks," he said, looking forward to next weekend's BMW Masters at Lake Malaren, where the Ulsterman won a record $2m for first prize at the Shanghai Masters two years ago.