McIlroy looking on the bright side despite cloudy finish
 Rory McIlroy took his late mistake on the chin

Rory McIlroy took his late mistake on the chin

Rory McIlroy was looking on the bright side despite following the sublime with the ridiculous as a closing double-bogey seven left him six shots off the pace at the Honda Classic in Florida.

The world number ten was almost flawless from tee to green for 15 holes at a firm and breezy PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. But feeling he had to go for the 18th green in two, he found water instead and trudged away to sign for a frustrating two-over 72.

It was a big disappointment after the heroics of his par-save at the treacherous 16th where he went from a fairway bunker on the left to the edge of the hazard right with his approach, then chased a magical 38-yard pitch up the green from among the rocks and rushes to less than three feet.

Just four off the lead after getting through the Bear Trap unscathed, a closing eagle would have halved the deficit with the pace-setters, Swede Alex Noren and former US Open champion Webb Simpson, who shot four-under 66s to lead by one from Morgan Hoffmann, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Mackenzie Hughes and Louis Oosthuizen.

But facing 268 yards to the hole at the 556-yard 18th, his attempt to hold a three-wood up into the breeze backfired and fell short in the lake on the right.

He then compounded the error, overshooting the green from 135 yards before pitching 12 feet past and dribbling his bogey putt well wide.

“It was a pretty tough day,” said McIlroy, who admitted he found it tough to read the greens at times. "Wind was up. Greens got a little sort of crusty and firm. I felt like I was hanging on pretty well. I was doing everything I needed to do, just sort of grinding out pars.

“I was sort of was pushing for a birdie at the last to try and shoot under par. Just tried to hold a three-wood up into the wind and over did it a little bit. A disappointing finish. Get back out tomorrow morning and try to rectify that mistake and start again."

McIlroy was impressive from tee to green, picking up early birdies at the third and fourth before missed greens led to bogeys at the tough sixth, where he ran through the back, and par-three seventh, where he pulled his tee shot.

Little dropped for him on the greens but he only had to hole a five-footer for par at the 12th in an otherwise excellent display until that costly late mistake sent him tumbling from the top 20 to within one stroke of the cut line, tied for 56th.

"If you look at the back nine, the 18th was the hole that was going to present the best chance for a birdie," he said.

"I was trying to make four there. I felt my best way to make four was to hit three-wood and get it up by the green or on the green and go from there. It was the right shot. I just didn’t execute it the right way.

"I feel like I was pretty solid out there. I didn't do much wrong. I struggled to read the greens. I hit a couple of putts that did the exact opposite of what I thought they were going to do.

"Just fairways, greens, and sort of grind out pars and try to pick up birdies when they come along. If the wind stays like this, it's going to be a tough week.

“Big picture, I'm so happy to be playing, and this is my third week in a row and don't feel any ill effects from health-wise or mentally or anything like that. 

“Usually when you play your third week in a row, you feel like you're looking forward to the week off. But I feel great. 

“Obviously disappointed how I finished today but excited to get a chance to go out there tomorrow again and shoot a good score and find my way back up the leaderboard."

There was also trouble for his playing partners Pádraig Harrington and Adam Scott on a day of attrition at the Champion Course.

The Australian was two-under par with four holes to play but dropped five shots at the Bear Trap run from the 15th to the 17th in a 73 as Harrington found water with his approach to the 16th before three-putting for a triple bogey seven en route to a six-over 76.

It was a better day for Graeme McDowell, who left the hangover of his closing 77 in the Genesis Open behind him as he birdied his last two holes for a level par 70 to share 21st with the likes of 14-time major winner Tiger Woods and European No 1 Tommy Fleetwood. Scores

Shane Lowry worked hard for a one-over 71 to share 34th, knowing he must win if he's to break into the world's top 50 before Monday's cut-off and qualify for next week's WGC-Mexico Championship.

Seamus Power got off to a horrible start as he went out on the back nine at the back of the field, eventually carding a 77.

He bogeyed the 10th, found water off the tee at the 11th to run up a double-bogey, then bogeyed the 12th and dropped four shots at the Bear Trap where another visit to a lake cost him a double bogey five at the 15th and he followed that with bogeys at the 16th and 17th.

Out in eight-over 43, he did well to get home in one-under 34, picking up shots at the third and fourth before failing to get up and down from greenside rough at the ninth.

As for Woods, he described his level par 70 as "easily" the best of the seven rounds he's played since returning to the PGA Tour last month.

"I played hard today," said the American (42), who led early after birdies at the 11th and 13th before following a bogey at the 16th with a double bogey seven at the third and a birdie at the fourth. 

“I’m starting to really get a feel for scoring again and scoring in tournaments, and today was a day that I’m very proud of because I missed the ball in the correct spots."

Noren, who lost to Jason Day in a Monday playoff for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last month, dropped just one stroke in an impressive, four-under 66 and a share of the lead 

"I couldn't believe I got in" - Moynihan

At the European Tour's Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, The Island's Gavin Moynihan got no practice round and just four hours sleep after his last-minute call-up, carding a five-over 77 to Darren Clarke's 76 to lie second last in the 138-strong field.

"I couldn't believe I got in," said Moynihan, who was undone by a quadruple bogey eight after driving into a bush at the second, his 11th hole, at Doha Golf Club. 

"I was the 12th reserve on Saturday afternoon, so I got in after midnight last night and only got four hours sleep.

"I was one under despite not making anything on the greens but I made a few silly mistakes on the back nine, hit in a bush on the second and had to take penalty drop too.

"It's a great course but a few putts got away from me and a practice round would've have been nice."
Set to play in the Tshwane Open in South Africa next week but unlikely to make the field for the Hero India Open, he may have to wait until April's Spanish Open for his next start after that.

England's Aaron Rai (22) closed with an eagle three for a 65 and a share of the lead with France's Grégory Havret and compatriot Eddie Pepperell on seven-under-par.

They're one clear of Oliver Fisher, former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari, Spain's Alvaro Quiros and Germany’s Marcel Schneider.