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McIlroy will come back even stronger

By Peter Hutcheon

One suspects that, in time, this was a play-off in which the loser, not the champion, will be remembered.

No disrespect intended to Jean-Francois Lucquin, who pipped Rory McIlroy to a first European Tour title in Crans-sur-Sierre yesterday, but it will be the Ulsterman who goes on to greater glories.

He will naturally be disappointed having led after his stunning opening 63 but also angry at letting slip a four-shot advantage and the manner in which he let his opponent claim victory.

Although the Frenchman birdied the 74th hole to win, that putt was made all the easier by McIlroy missing a tap-in for par.

We’ve seen this from him before. Just about a year ago, in the Walker Cup, he three-putted the 18th at Royal Co Down to hand victory to the Americans after rushing the birdie putt, which would have clinched the point, eight feet past the hole.

His putting, which had been his strength all week, let him down when it mattered most, a par putt on the last from five feet to win in regulation.

He was, though, unfortunate with any number of birdie putts which either lipped out or just shaded the hole all afternoon.

Ultimately it will be with the putter which dictates whether McIlroy can join the game’s elite or if he will merely be just another very good player.

That’s why he has worked so hard on the greens this summer, aware that that facet of his game was letting him down and was more responsible than anything else for the string of missed cuts.

“I’ve had a lot of weekends free to practise,” he quipped last week.

Indeed. But he will learn from those experiences and he will learn from this one as well and it was encouraging to see manager Andrew Chandler on the 18th green as he lost the play-off. Quite a shoulder to lean on.

Chubby takes his responsibilities seriously and will quickly help pick the 19-year-old up and dust him down.

Rory himself will not hide behind the fact that he is still a teenager for missing out on a first title yesterday.

This was his first time in the final group in a European Tour event. He had never before led a tournament and his opening round was his lowest as a professional by three shots.

Perhaps he could have bettered par by a shot or two in his second and closing rounds - in each case he followed an effort in the low or mid-60s with level par 71s. Lucquin, by contrast, shot four rounds in the 60s.

McIlroy now has a second place to go with the third which earned him his Tour card almost a year ago at St Andrews.

All that remains is to take that one tiny step further and few in the game doubt that it will come sooner rather than later.

Belfast Telegraph

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