Rory McIlroy will go to the Masters as a stronger player despite his weekend disappointment in the WGC-CA Championship at Doral’s Blue Monster.

The teen sensation, 19, got to within a shot of the lead during Saturday’s third round before a series of short game errors smashed his hopes of becoming the youngest winner in the history of the PGA Tour.

As Phil Mickelson battled a virus and held off Nick Watney to win his first WGC title by a stroke, McIlroy had no adrenalin left in the tank as he closed with a 73 share 20th place with Padraig Harrington on nine-under par.

But after being touted by world No 1 Tiger Woods as the man most likely to take his crown, the Ulsterman has reached maximum in the hype stakes and will be better prepared for his Masters debut as a result

McIlroy’s manager Chubby Chandler said: “He has had the press in his face for the last three weeks. But the up side is that he will go to the Masters much better prepared than he would have been.

“He will be ready for the hype of the Masters and the challenge of it.”

Asked if McIlroy could become world No 1, Woods said: “There's no doubt.  There's no doubt.  The guy's a talent.  Hopefully while I'm not around, or while I'm around. It's just a matter of time and experience, and then basically gaining that experience in big events.

“That takes time, and I mean, geez, he's only 19. Just give him some time, and I'm sure he'll be there.”

Playing his first strokeplay event since knee surgery, Woods improved with round and closed with a four-under par 68 to finish well inside the top 15 on 11 under par.

McIlroy fluffed three chips in Saturday’s third round and bogeyed three of the last five holes to go into the final round six shots behind  Mickelson and  Watney.

He was plainly playing on fumes yesterday and while he made an easy, two-putt birdie at the par-five first, his short game was not sharp enough to break into the top 10.

At the second he hit a 315-yard drive but failed to get up and down from 45 yards for his birdie and then double bogeyed the par-three fourth - three-putting from just 15 feet after an indifferent pitch from the upslope of the water hazard that protects the green.

He birdied the par-five 12th to get back to level for the day but did well to get up and down for bogey at the last after a visit to the water - hit a 71 yard pitch to seven feet and holing the putt.

Making an unscheduled stop in Miami, Harrington knocked some rust of his game before the countdown to the Masters when he hit his third successive, one-under par 71 to finish alongside McIlroy on nine under par.

After also getting up and down for a bogey at the 18th after a visit to the drink, Harrington said: “It would have been reasonable to turn today into perhaps a 69 or something like that but I don’t have any complaints about today. I am 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."

Woods closed with 68 to finish inside the top 10 on 11-under par in his first strokeplay event after knee surgery.

Darren Clarke closed with a 69 to finish inside the top 50 on three under par but an “undergolfed” Graeme McDowell three-putted twice in a closing 73 to finish near the back of the field on two-over.