Rory McIlroy turns his sights to Masters assault after early Match Play exit
Rory McIlroy's bid for a second WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play title came to a disappointing early end as he bowed out of the group stage in Austin.
McIlroy needed to beat American left-hander Brian Harman to have a chance of reaching the last 16, but gifted his opponent several holes on his way to a comprehensive 5&3 defeat.
The 2015 champion, who came into the event on the back of a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, made a mess of the third, fifth and ninth to fall three down and a conceded birdie on the 10th was matched by Harman from eight feet.
Another Harman birdie on the next extended his lead before he gave McIlroy a glimmer of hope by finding water with his approach to the par-five 12th.
However, while McIlroy could only par the short 13th after attempting to drive the green, Harman pitched to four feet for another birdie and the pair were soon shaking hands on the 15th green.
McIlroy will at least have the consolation of some desired extra time off before stepping up his bid for a first Masters title at Augusta National, which would make him the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam.
McIlroy said: "I wish I was hanging around for the weekend, but I'll rest up and get a little bit of work in before going to Augusta," said McIlroy.
"Going from winning on Sunday to travelling on Monday and getting an early practice on Tuesday to play on Wednesday, I didn't have a lot of time to sort of recharge the batteries.
"Obviously I have a couple of days extra at home that I wasn't planning on. I'll just chill out, rest up a little bit, recharge the batteries, get into the gym.
"Have a good week training and a good practice week and just get myself ready for Augusta. I'm excited about it - it should be good."
Harman, who ended the group stage unbeaten with two and a half points from three matches, said: "I played really well. I only made one over-par hole and made five or six birdies and was in the fairway and on the green a lot.
"It felt like I was able to put some pressure on the golf course and in match play I feel that's really important.
"You can actually gain a little bit of an advantage if you're first coming into the green and, for me, I've played with Rory enough times to know that I can't keep up with him off the tee box."
Harman's win meant he topped the group ahead of compatriot Peter Uihlein, who beat McIlroy on day one and Jhonattan Vegas 4&3 on Friday.
Harman will face Bubba Watson in the last 16 after the two-time Masters champion birdied the final two holes to halve his match with Julian Suri.
The winner of that contest will take on either Charles Howell or Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarter-finals. Howell claimed his third win of the week over Satoshi Kodaira, rendering Phil Mickelson's victory over Rafa Cabrera Bello irrelevant.
Aphibarnrat also maintained his 100 per cent record with a 4&3 win over last year's runner-up Jon Rahm.