Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry headed for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open with a spring in their step but Rory McIlroy had another frustrating week on the greens in The Players at TPC Sawgrass.
As McDowell birdied his last three holes for a 69 that left him the best of the Irish on eight under par and heading for The K Club in high spirits after his first Top 10 finish since February, McIlroy's final hole birdie for a 70 and a share of 12th on seven under was not the source of all happiness.
He ended up eight shots behind the prolific world No 1 Jason Day, whose 71 gave him a wire to wire win (his 7th in his last 17th starts), and he knew at the finish that he'd played well enough to win if only he could cut out his mistakes.
“I've been saying I'm close for a very long time. Feels like I've been saying I'm close all year,” he told reporters, including the Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard.
“I seem to play the wrong shot or I seem to hit a bad shot at the wrong time,” said McIlroy, who had another poor week with the short stick, finishing second for strokes gained from tee to green and 68th for strokes gained on the greens.
“Everything is just not clicking, and hopefully as the summer approaches, everything can start to click and I can go on a run, because I really don't feel like it's too far away.”
Lowry shot 71 despite a bogey at the last to finish two shots further in tied 16ht on on six under par.
Lowry, McIlroy and McDowell began the day tied for 15th on five under par, nine strokes behind Jason Day, who had a four-stroke lead over Hideki Matsuyama, Ken Duke and Alex Cejka.
And whole it was Lowry who was the first to make a move in his final round pairing with McDowell, reeling off three birdies in a row from the second to jump up the leaderboard, it was the Ulsterman who finished the stronger.
Lowry was out int he final group on Saturday after rounds of 65 and 68 but after slipping to a 78 in Saturday’s mayhem when the PGA Tour got the set up badly wrong on the greens, he made a fast start to his final round but then stalled.
The Clara man two putted for his birdie at the second, holed a 24 footer at the par-three third and then hit a wedge to eight feet at the fourth and made the putt.
The Offaly star’s putting has been cold this season but it was his long game that let him down towards the end of the back nine as loose tee shots at the seventh and ninth led to expensive bogeys.
He then lost some mojo on the greens coming home, missing a five footer for birdie at the par-five 11th and three and a half footer at the next.
Lowry will be gunning for glory in this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, confessing in Florida that it is “a massive week for me.”
A third round 78 killed is hopes at Sawgrass but he’s still confident a big is just around the corner.
He said: “I want to be playing well this summer because there are so many big events and I feel like I have the game to contend in Majors and the biggest tournaments in the world.”
McDowell turned in one over but birdied the 10th from three feet and the 12th from eight before following a bogey at the 15th by chipping dead for birdie at the 16th.
He then hit his tee shot to three feet at the 17th and followed that by making another birdie from eight feet at the last.
As for McIlroy the Ulsterman birdied the par-five second, ninth and 11th but he missed a handful of birdie putts inside 10 feet at the sixth and eighth and then found water at the par-three 13th and did well to limit the damage to a bogey.
Another bogey at the 15th, where he overshot the green from the trees, left him seven behind overnight leader Day, who turned in two over to give the field a glimmer of hope only to birdie the 10th, 12th and 15th to win by four shots on 14 under par from Kevin Chappell (69), Justin Thomas (65), Matt Kuchar (68), Colt Knost (69) and Ken Duke (72)