The door was open but Padraig Harrington failed to walk through it as he closed with a disappointing three over 76 to finish eight shots outside a play-off for the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa.
Having hauled himself back into the tournament on Saturday to trail the leaders by just three shots, the Dubliner had 34 putts in a poor closing effort in perfect weather conditions and had to settle for a share of 10th place behind Branden Grace, who saw off boyhood heroes Retief Goosen and Ernie Els in a play-off.
Harrington has a clear objective in his first three starts of the year: to haul himself into the top 64 in the world so that he qualifies for next month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona.
He moved up just one place to 88th in the latest world rankings, however, and question marks remain over his ability to putt well under pressure following Sunday’s unimpressive performance.
An early bogey at the second put him on the back foot and when he dropped further shots at the seventh and eighth, his race was all but run.
A birdie at the par-five ninth saw him turn for home in two over, five under for the tournament, four shots behind the eventual winner and five shots off the pace.
But after a run of four straight pars, his title challenge ended with a double bogey six at the 14th before he finished birdie-bogey-birdie to end up tied for 10th on four under par.
Darren Clarke finish tied for 20th on one-under after a 76 and falls to 50th in the world while Michael Hoey crashed to a closing 82 to finish 33rd in the 35-man field on 16 over.
Harrington earned €47,050 for his efforts with Clarke picking up €32,150 and Hoey €23,400.
Grace, meanwhile, became the first player since Fred Couples in 1995 to follow his first European Tour win with another with victory.
A week after capturing his first European Tour title in the Joburg Open,
The 23-year old, who came through The European Tour Qualifying School only a month ago and did not even have a place in the 35-man winners-only field until he lifted last week’s Joburg Open, closed with a two under 71 to finished tied with Els ((67) and Goosen (70) on 12 under.
He then made a two-putt birdie on the par-five 18th in the play-off to lift the title and move to 92nd in the world rankings from 271st at the end of 2011.
“I’m really ecstatic,” Grace said. “It’s a dream come true to win such a big event - pretty much the best tournament I’ve played in so far.”
Els has yet to secure his place in the Masters field but he moved up 14 place to 51st in the world rankings and still has nearly three months to secure an Augusta return.
Els said: “A couple more putts here and there and that could have been something special. It’s a very encouraging week, all four rounds under par, and I’m working on some good stuff.”
Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazábal threatened the lead at one stage but faded to sixth after a 73.
He said: “The only weak part was my driver. The rest of the game has been pretty good. At certain moments in the round it looked a little bit like the old days.”
Harrington showed some of his old form in the first and third rounds but while he generally struck the ball well from tee to green, he averaged 30.5 putts per round, far too many for a many hoping to become a major contender again.