Rory McIlroy’s search for a 2020 success goes on after another nightmare front nine ‘rut’ ended a final round challenge before it had even begun.
The world number one had gone into Sunday three shots off the top of a packed leaderboard at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial CC as the PGA Tour returned to action follow the coronavirus shutdown.
However, for the third time in four starts, McIlroy saw a chance to secure a first win since November evaporate in an over par final round, the damage once again done, as twice before, on the front nine.
This time, the Holywood star found himself six over at the turn and eventually carded a four over par 74 to finish six under for the week, nine behind eventual winner Daniel Berger.
The result ends McIlroy’s run of seven consecutive top five finishes as he came in tied 32nd.
“I got off to a really bad start,” he confessed.
“The wind was up today. You didn't have to be that much off for it to show. I missed a couple of greens in the wrong spots and made bogeys.
“I played all the way to the end and shot a decent back nine but on the front, I just got into a rut and played a bad run of holes. Obviously that put me out of the tournament.”
McIlroy’s day got off to a nightmare start with a bogey six at the first. His 240 yard second shot was pushed 50 yards right of the target, up against a fence and when he had to punch out behind the green, all it took to drop a shot was a failure to get up and down.
That would be the first of nine putts inside 15 feet that McIlroy would miss. With stats like that, combined with only hitting eight greens, the end figures were never going to be good.
It didn’t take long for any hope of a challenge to totally unravel as the Holywood man dropped two more shots after failures to get up and down from bunkers during the Horrible Horseshoe swing of holes three to five.
A drive into the right rough at the par four seventh meant he could only punch a second 40 yards short of the green. A pitch over the back indicated that another bad hole was getting worse and when a six foot putt was eventually missed, it was a double bogey.
Add in a three-putt bogey at the ninth and it was a disastrous six over front nine 41.
There were, at least, a few of highlights in store on the back nine with a bounce-back birdie thanks to a tight approach at the par four 10th, a holed bunker shot for a two at the 16th and a tidy birdie at the last.
By then, the damage had well and truly been done.
After a tight battle for the title, Berger secured his third PGA Tour victory, and first since 2017, when he edged Colin Morikawa in a play-off, the pair both finishing on -15 for the week.
Bogeys at the 17th had ultimately cost Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele places in the play-off, that latter thanks to the most cruel of lip-outs
It was a similar mishap that would decide the tournament, as Morikawa's short par putt didn't drop on the first tie hole.
Jason Kokrak, whose six under 64 was the lowest score of the day, and Justin Rose also finished a shot sort of the play-off, with Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson one further back.
McIlroy and compatriot Graeme McDowell, who missed the cut by a shot at Colonial, will have an immediate opportunity to put their frustrations behind them when the pair tee it up at the RBC Heritage event at Harbour Town, South Carolina this week.