Undercooked or waiting to peak? McIlroy says he's happy with progress before Augusta

What was more important: Matt Every retaining the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a closing 66? The steam coming from the ears of runner up Henrik Stenson after he was put him on the clock coming down the stretch? Or was it Rory McIlroy's haul of one round in the 60s in three events on the Florida swing as he looks to the Masters?

In the end, all three stories line are worthy of a headline but Irish fans who are hoping to see McIlroy win his third straight major at Augusta National next month remain in the dark about the world No 1's from.

True, Bubba Watson shot a first round 83 and promptly withdrew at Bay Hill last year before going on to win his second green jacket in three starts at the Masters a few weeks later. 

Now, after a closing 70 left him tied for 11th on 11 under, eight shots behind Every, McIlroy knows he has plenty of work to do on his game over the next 18 days.

"There was progress made this week considering what I was working on last week after Doral," McIlroy said. "A few areas of the game that I need to tidy up going in there, but saw enough good signs, positive signs to be optimistic in the next couple of weeks and I know what I need to work on.

"I guess that wasn't the main goal, obviously the main goal was to come here and try to win. Couldn't do that. At least I got a couple of things out of this week which is good."

McIlroy's parting shot was a stunning birdie but he confessed: "My wedge play needs quite a bit of work. I am not taking advantage of getting up close to the green.

“I am going to concentrate a lot from 120 yards in over the next couple of weeks. I will try to get that as sharp as I possibly can.”

Happy he added the event to his schedule, he said: “I had a fantastic week. I had never played here before and I really liked the golf course.

“I got to spend some time with Arnold, which was a real treat. I got quite a lot out of this week, actually. It wasn’t the way I wanted to finish but it gives me what I need, heading into the next couple of weeks and preparing for Augusta.”

Looking at his recent performances, it's fair to say that McIlroy has not peaked too early for Augusta.


"I sort of like that because if I had played really well the last few weeks, I'd be wondering how do I keep this going," he said. "It's almost like it's nice to be able to build yourself up. I don't feel I'm right there. I feel like I'm gradually building myself up so it's actually not a bad position to be in."

Four behind Stenson starting the day, Every made an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a 66 that set the target at 19 under par.

He then looked on as Stenson, who had a one-shot lead with four holes to play, three-putted from 45 feet for bogey on the 15th and from 40 feet for bogey at the par-five 16th when on the clock.

The Swede missed a 20 footer for birdie at the last that would have forced a playoff had it dropped.

And his predicament brought back memories of the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Pádraig Harrington and Tiger Woods went on the clock and the Dubliner imploded with a triple bogey at the 16th.

They were well off pace at the time and there was a suggestion that TV finishing times were paramount again this time too as Stenson and his playing partner Morgan Hoffman, were put on the click from the 15th.

“I am a bit disappointed with the rules official for pushing us up late in the round for no obvious reason,” Stenson said. “You have to back off every now and then for mobile phones and stuff like that. You are not playing the quickest when you are in the last couple of groups.

“I didn’t see the point of the officials influencing, potentially, the outcome of this tournament towards the end. You want to take your time but when someone is sitting there with a stopwatch, it affects you a little bit. It got to me and obviously I was rushing.”

According to reports, it was suggested to Stenson that the underlying issue was the completion of play before live broadcasting ended at 6pm local time.

“I thought we were here to play golf. Not to finish at 6pm,” Stenson said.

As for Harrington, he had three three-putts on the back nine as he closed with a two over 74 and ended up tied for 49th on four under.