McIlroy off his greens in Portugal

From Brian Keogh in Estoril

Rory McIlroy had a nightmare day on the greens as Gregory Bourdy smashed David Howell’s comeback dreams with a play-off win in the Estoril Portuguese Open.

The Holywood teenager had 34 putts in a level par 71 to finish tied 15th as Howell took just 25 in a sensational, seven-under par 64 to set the 18-under par clubhouse target at Oitavos Dunes.

After 18 months of golfing agony and a dramatic slide to 237th in the world, Howell looked on as Bourdy (70) and Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth (66) matched his 266 total to force extra holes.

Returning to the 18th for the play-off, all three made par before the Scot was eliminated the second time around after driving into bushes on the left.

Howell and Bourdy went back to the 17th to continue their battle for the €208,330 top prize but it was the English Ryder Cup star who cracked first when he missed the green left, chipped poorly and failed with a 15-footer for par.

“I just couldn’t commit to the new swing thoughts well enough,” said Howell, who started work with a new coach last week. “It wasn’t that hard an up-and-down. It’s funny that the part of the game that is usually the strongest was my weakest this week.”

Last year’s Majorca Classic winner, Bourdy bogeyed three of the first six holes to see his four-stroke overnight lead disappear but played the back nine in four under par 31 before claiming his second European Tour title in sudden-death.

Bourdy said: “It’s a fantastic feeling. It was very hard at the start of the day when I was plus three. But at the start of the day I knew that I had to play under par to have a chance to win. So I knew that on the back nine, if I could make four or five birdies then it would be enough.

“In the play-off I was quite nervous but to win against players like Alastair Forsyth and David Howell was amazing.”

McIlroy got off to a fast start with birdies at the second and third but three-putted the fourth and eighth for bogeys and the 13th for par before erasing a birdie at the 16th with a bogey at the penultimate hole.

Disappointed, McIlroy said: “It was a good week but I just couldn’t get anything going today and I couldn’t really get the pace of the greens either. But it’s all a learning curve.

“I only made three birdies today, which isn’t enough. Overall it was a pretty good week. Hopefully I will play well in the BMW Asian Open and then in Japan before coming back for the Irish Open. I feel that my game is coming around lovely and if I can get the putter going for all four days, I’ll be close.”

Damien McGrane finished the best of the Irish in solo sixth place on 15-under par after a closing 66 and reckons he is not far away from a maiden European Tour win.

“I played nicely and I putted better after changing putters early in the week,” said McGrane, who earned €53,000 to move up to 14th on the Order of Merit. “But I still missed bags and bags of putts. With nine holes to play and even with three to play, I felt I was in with a chance. But it wasn’t to be.

“I am waiting for a week when I can get my nose one shot ahead of everybody else. I am close.”

Paul McGinley’s closing 67 gave him his third third top-ten of the season as he tied for seventh on 13-under par as Darren Clarke’s 68 left him tied 24th on nine-under.

Boosted by an eagle three at the 16th in a homeward 31, McGinley said: “You have got to play so well to get a top 10 now. I played well but I didn’t have my foot on the gas for 72 holes.

“That’s three top tens this year and I didn’t have any at all last year. But you can’t let up at all or you are trampled in the stampede.

“I am not putting it all together for 72 holes but I am not that far off. It seems that nowadays that you have to have the foot on the gas for 72 holes. They don’t give away top 10s anymore, you really have to earn them.”