McIlroy makes world top-50 despite Hong Kong defeat

Rory McIlroy took a giant step towards a priceless US Masters invite despite his sudden-death defeat in the UBS Hong Kong Open.

The Holywood teenager, 19, moved up 13 places to 50th in the world rankings when he lost to a tap-in birdie by Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang - the new world No 51 - on the second hole of an amazing play-off.

McIlroy will round off his year in the Alfred Dunhill Championship (11-14 December) and the South African Open (18-21 December) and if remains in the top 50 until December 31 he will earn the right to tee it up at Augusta next April.

In contrast to his nervy play-off loss in September’s European Masters, McIlroy made the extra time battle with Lin and Italy’s Francesco Molinari one of the most enthralling in European Tour history.

After pocking €170,610, McIlroy said: “He had to beat me, I didn’t back down. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes. That’s how it goes. It was still a great finish and it might get me into the top 50 in the world. So it is all good.

“Lin’s made two (birdie) threes on the last in the play-off and probably should have won it in regulation anyway. When you make two threes in the play-off, you can’t beat that to be honest.

“I can’t be disappointed. It puts me into a great position going into the new year and I have still got two events left in South Africa before Christmas.

“If I don’t win then, hopefully I will win sometime next year. As long as I keep putting myself in these positions, I feel as if I will be able to close one out sooner or later.”

Lin missed a six-foot birdie chance at the 18th to win in regulation but finished up in a play-off with the Italian and McIlroy, who closed with a five-under par 65 for a 15-under par total.

But he had to birdie the 18th twice in sudden-death to see of the Ulster whizz kid who has now racked up six top-10 finishes in his last eight starts.

At the first extra hole, Lin hooked his drive into the trees but set up an unlikely birdie with an amazing recovery to six feet.

With Molinari eliminated after making only a par, McIlroy was suddenly forced to hole a three-footer to stay alive.

But the Irish ace hooked his drive into the trees on the second extra hole and while he produced an incredible recovery to find the green, Lin stiffed his approach and claimed the title.

After failing with a 20-footer to stay alive, McIlroy explained: “I hit an incredible shot for my second at the second play-off hole but it wasn’t meant to be.

“I was right behind a tree and I had to hook a gap wedge about 40 yards. It was just one of those shots that you try and if it comes off it comes off.

“It came off perfectly but Lin was in a great position. After the shot from the trees, I knew I had to hole my putt but it went left early. But it was a great week and I will take all the positives from it. I couldn’t have done much more.”

LIke McIlroy, overnight leader Oliver Wilson is still waiting for his maiden win after three late bogeys relegated him to tied sixth.

McIlroy said: “Look at Ollie Wison. He has been second eight or nine times now and as long as I keep putting myself in these positions and feeling the nerves and feeling the adrenaline, I know I am doing things right.”

Graeme McDowell tied for 11th after a closing 65 with Gareth Maybin (67) in 24th and Paul McGinley (71) 53rd.