Rory McIlroy might have talent to burn but the manner of his 19th hole defeat to Harris English could not have contrasted more with the way Graeme McDowell chiseled out a one up win over Hideki Matsuyama in the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain.
If McIlroy is golfing aristocracy — born with the silver spoon of god-given talent in his mouth — McDowell is the working class hero who has had to fight for everything he’s got.
That’s unfair, of course, given that McIlroy still works as hard as most. But while he is clearly a better player than English (and arguably everyone else in the game when he’s firing on all cylinders), raw talent alone wasn’t enough as he paid for a series of mistakes with the putter and the driver on another picture perfect Arizona afternoon.
As McDowell completed another magical comeback, rallying from two down with four to play to beat tMatsuyama one up by holing a gutsy eight footer at the last, McIlroy bit the dust at the 19th against a 24-year old American who simply did not put a foot wrong all day.
The Holywood star missed a four putts inside 10 feet and then hit a couple of wild drives into the desert to find himself two down with five to play.
Like all the greats, he somehow managed to lift himself and flick the genius switch they all appear to have and sensationally birdied the 14th, 15th and 16th to go one up.
The quality of McIlroy’s iron play and driving is a thing of beauty to behold. But he didn’t count on English hitting back with a birdie from 19 feet at the 17th to level the match and take it to the 18th.
They halved that one in par four but it was McIlroy who was first to blink in this desert showdown between two of the hottest young pistoleros in the game.
A pulled drive into the juicy rough was all it took to undo the Holywood star. Going for the pin, he hoiked his 16-yard approach into the desert left of the green and overshot the green with his third.
With English chipping to less than four feet from the apron, McIlroy needed to get up and down at worst to salvage a half but he chipped to 25 feet and missed his bogey putt before conceding the match.
“Obviously a little bit disappointed with how I finished,” McIlroy said. “Being two down with five to go, playing the last five holes like I did, I was happy about that.
“I didn't hit the greatest drive off the 19th and got a pretty bad lie in the rough. It was just unfortunate.
“I played pretty well for the most part. A couple of loose drives on the back nine to give him a couple of holes.
“But, you know, he played really solid today and didn't really do much wrong, didn't really give me anything. So the more consistent player won at the end of the day.”
The two-time major winner could have been a couple up with eight holes to go but instead found himself all square after missing four putts inside 10 feet.
He should never have lost the par-five second after English bunkered his drive. But he walked off one down after pulling his approach with an iron into trouble and flubbing a tough chip into sand.
English did what he had to do, getting up and down thanks to a 97-yard pitch and an eight footer putt.
But while McIlroy got back to all square straight away, hitting a sky-high tee shot to six feet at the 202 yard third, he was forced to chip and putt for a half at the fifth, missed a six foot birdie chance to win the par-three sixth after another sensational iron shot and walked off the seventh one down after missing a seven footer for birdie.
English had hit another superb wedge inside him there and converted and while the Ulsterman got back to level again with a birdie at the par-five eighth, he missed two putts inside 10 feet at the ninth and 10th to find himself one down heading down the last eight holes.
His first big mistake was a pushed tee shot into the desert at the par-five 11th. Forced to take a penalty drop and he ended up conceding the hole to go two down.
He hit back with a birdie from 10 feet at the par-three 12th but another wild tee shot sailed right into the desert at the par-five 13th and after taking two to get back into the semi-rough, he bogeyed to go two down again.
Then came some magic.
After hitting an eight iron to six feet and converting for birdie at the 14th, he made an easy birdie at the driveable par-four 15th, hitting a three wood pin high before getting up and down from right of the green to square the match after English had chipped weakly.
Then at the 235-yard 16th, he hit a stunning four-iron into the breeze to four feet and rolled in the putt for his third two of the day and a one up lead.
“I hit a couple of really good iron shots in that stretch,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to produce those shots when I sort of needed to. It was just unfortunate I couldn't keep it going. I'm very comfortable with my game.
“I don't feel in any way disappointed leaving so early, because I feel like my game is there. I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks.”
English was clearly chuffed to take such a huge scalp, recalling how he had played alongside McIlroy in the final group in the 2012 Honda Classic, where the Ulsterman won to become world No 1 for the first time.
“I knew it was going to be a battle coming in,” said the two-time PGA Tour winner. “Rory is an unbelievable player, and has seemed to have found his game the last couple of months.
“I knew going into it I was going to have to bring my "A" game and put a lot of pressure on him to end up taking the victory….
“He gave me No. 11, the par five - hit it in the desert a couple of times. And pretty much gave me 13. I knew he was playing well, and he was going to keep coming.
“And obviously on 14, hit it five feet. At 15, he got up and down, chipped it to a foot or two. And then the shot on 16 he hit was unbelievable. That's a par hole, and he hit an unbelievable four-iron to about five feet.
“I knew it was coming. I knew I had to bare down. The match wasn't over. And I pretty much needed to make some birdies to keep up with him.”