Rory McIlroy looked almost certain to reclaim world first place as he took a one-shot lead on the track at Sunday’s Arnold Palmer Invitation.
But two sloppy bogeys allowed world No. 46 Kurt Kitiyama to sneak in and capture his first PGA Tour crown in a dramatic finale.
To be fair to McIlroy, the tough conditions at Orlando at Bay Hill saw contenders like world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Tyrrell Hatton in and out of contention.
But when McIlroy potted a 20ft hole on the 13th to make it three birdies in four holes and take the advantage on nine under, the £3m first prize and a second Bay Hill triumph were up for grabs.
But missed shots on the 14th and 15th — including a duff in thick rough that extended 20 yards — sent him back into the pack, and despite a struggling birdie on the 16th, he ultimately had to accept a tie for second-place Harris English .
England’s Tyrrell Hatton was tied in fourth place after having his own chances.
Despite the disappointment, McIlroy is sure to draw the positives from this close encounter with The Players beginning Thursday in Sawgrass and, more relevantly, the Masters is just four weeks away.
However, he is able to rein himself in from the advice relayed by none other than Jack Nicklaus over the weekend.
McIlroy has been told for years that he’s building the Masters too much in his head and that he won’t complete the career grand slam until he learns to go with the flow and play his natural game at Augusta.
“Rory is trying to be too loose”
But now Nicklaus, the player with more green jackets than any golfer in history, has declared he must be tense at the first major of the season as he joins the likes of Golden Bear, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene wants Saracens in the Pantheon
“Rory sometimes just plays golf, I think,” Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, told Sir Nick Faldo on his Sir Nickás Round Table Chats podcast. “And sometimes you really can’t just play golf. I look at Augusta and everyone knows Augusta pretty well
There are about six shots in Augusta that you’d better pay attention to: your 2 shot, your 11 second shot, your 12 shot, your 13 shot, and the 13 second shot and 15 second shot.
“Those six shots, if you’ve played those shots smartly, play them intelligently and put them on the conservative side of the ledger, the rest of the golf course isn’t very difficult. And so Rory sometimes gets tangled up in golf and suddenly: Where does this eight come from?
“And he’s too good for that. He’s too good a player. And maybe he’s trying to be too loose. I’ve never been relaxed. I always wanted to be on point with every shot.
“You can’t get relaxed and feel good and kind of enjoy — you can’t enjoy the round. You have to play the round, and if you play the round well, that’s your pleasure.”
¨I loved the pressure. Pressure is what you live for. And we did. i love rory I think he’s a great guy. He’s in the prime of his career right now. He’ll win more tournaments, more majors, there’s no question about that. And if he wins more, he will win more than one. But he has to be able not to let that happen to him.”