Brian Keogh in Miami
Masters favourites Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington knocked some more rust off their games as Rory McIlroy ran out of adrenalin in the WGC-CA Championship at Doral’s Blue Monster.
As a physically-struggling Phil Mickelson beat Nick Watney by a shot to take his first WGC title after a thrilling back nine duel, Woods closed with a four under par 68 to finish in the top ten in his first strokeplay start since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery eight months ago.
Denied on the greens, the world number one declared himself happy with the state of his game as he begins his countdown to the Masters in just over three weeks’ time.
But it was also a positive week for Harrington and McIlroy as they finished in share of 20th place on nine-under par after rounds of 71 and 73 respectively.
“The good news is, I got better each and every day, my ball‑striking, my feel got better each and every day,” said Woods, who had little luck on the greens. “I putted good today. I made two putts, but I felt like I'm hitting the putts better.
“I'm happy with the way I progressed, but not necessarily happy with the way I finished, obviously. I didn't win the golf tournament and wasn't in a position to win the golf tournament. But hitting the golf ball this week, I got better each and every day, and my feel around the greens got better and just handling the environment out there got better.
“I've been away so long, I figured it would take me a lot longer to get back. But you know, this week was a big week for me.”
McIlroy was running on fumes after losing his chance to win the tournament with a level par 72 on Saturday. But he did well to bogey the last after a visit to the water 73 before declaring that he was pleased to finish the tournament inside the top 20 despite his over-par weekend.
“It is probably looking like it is going to be a top 20 finish and a top 20 finish in this field is a pretty good accomplishment,” McIlroy said after a round that featured two birdies, a three-putt double bogey and that closing five. “I was in a very good position going into the weekend but just couldn’t capitalise on it and I got a bit tired the last couple of days and the adrenalin levels weren’t quite there. But it has been a good three weeks and I still feel as if I’m playing pretty good.
“It has been a great three weeks - a lot of people have gotten to know me which has been great and I have had a lot of support out here now- but I am looking forward to getting home for a couple of weeks and I’ll be raring to go and get back out here and play some more. It has been great and I feel that if I can do a little bit of work at home I’ll get myself ready for the next stretch.
“I can’t wait (for the Masters). It is going to be my second event back when I do get back out here. It is right around the corner and the closer it gets, the more excited I’ll be. It’ll be a great week for me and hopefully one that I will do well at.”
Harrington added Doral to his schedule at the last minute after a slow start to his season and while he didn't drive the ball well he was happy to get up and down for a bogey at the last for a third successive 71 that left him tied with McIlroy on nine-under par.
“It would have been reasonable to turn today into perhaps a 69 or something like that but I don’t have any complaints,” said Harrington, who visited water at the last but got up and down for his bogey five. “I’m happy with where I stand.
“I was playing for the sake of this week but now it’s over I am starting to look ahead and it gives me a good idea of what I need to work on going forward. It hasn’t been ideal up to now but I am comfortable with my game and, as always the optimist, I do feel things are going in the right direction."
Darren Clarke closed with a 69 to finish inside the top 50 on three under par but an “under-golfed” Graeme McDowell three-putted twice in a closing 73 to finish near the back of the field on two-over.
“I haven’t played too bad at all,” Clarke said. “I hit it well from tee to green but nothing much dropped for me this week. I always seem to have trouble reading the grain on these bermuda greens."