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No match play joy but Rory McIlroy hails valuable week

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy will go into the Masters without a victory in 2016 after the defending champion lost his semi-final of the WGC-Dell Match Play to new World No.1 Jason Day.

Day, who replaces Jordan Spieth at the top of the world rankings today by virtue of his performance at Austin Country Club, won a hard-fought contest by one hole to set up a final with former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who defeated Rafael Cabrera-Bello 4&3.

Day carried his form into the decider against Oosthuizen, triumphing 5&4 to set up his bid for a first Masters title.

McIlroy couldn't pick himself up, however, and lost the third/fourth play-off 3&2 to Cabrera-Bello.

McIlroy has never successfully defended a title in his professional career and was famously prevented from even attempting to do so in last year's Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after suffering a serious ankle injury while playing football.

The World No.3 had made no secret of wanting a win under his belt before attempting to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in completing the career Grand Slam at the Masters.

And the 26-year-old Ulsterman felt his excellent match play record gave him a great chance of following the likes of Day, Spieth, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel into the winner's circle this year in his final competitive outing before heading to Augusta.

Day produced a brilliant par save on the last to seal victory.

A disappointed McIlroy said: "I thought it was a good quality match.

"If I have to look back on it there were a couple of opportunities around the third and fourth where I did not convert and then not birdieing 12 or 13 was the real downfall.

"Losing 12 and 13, I think the catalyst for that was that shift in momentum on 11 and I never really recovered.

"To go two down I knew I had an uphill battle on my hands and Jason was not giving me anything.

"I made a couple of birdies in the last five holes but it just was not good enough.

"I feel like I played well. I did not make a bogey out there and I did not hand him anything, but I'm obviously disappointed I am not in the final."

On the positive front, McIlroy felt the whole week had been "very valuable" preparation for the Masters, adding: "I was saying coming into this week that no matter if I play three, six or seven rounds, playing match play and feeling like you are in contention every time you step on the first tee is a great feeling and something you can't replicate in practice.

"The week has been very positive overall; I wish I could have been able to get one more win, but I am very happy with my game going into Augusta."

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