It was a case of so close but again so far as Rory McIlroy saw hopes of capturing a seventh ‘Open’ title end with a fourth place finish in the 79th hosting of the DS Automobiles Italian Open near Rome.
McIlroy, contesting a first Italian Open since being in Turin 16-years ago and winning the European Amateur title, left the 2023 Ryder Cup host venue bitterly empty-handed after a disappointing closing 68 to eventually finish two spots from making the Marco Simone play-off.
Though in not joining eventual winner Robert MacIntyre and reigning US Open champ Matt Fitzpatrick in the play-off, McIlroy can look to back to his opening hole on day four. He headed into the final 18 just a shot behind Fitzpatrick but it was a horror start with McIlroy three-putting the first for a double-bogey ‘6’.
It sent McIlroy tumbling back to seven-under and from there on it was a game of catch-up for the World No. 2, and it was also very much a repeat of his closing round at the recent 150th Open Championship, where there was just no spark over the last day.
McIlroy picked-up a first birdie in holing a three-footer at the fifth and also sending a four-footer to the bottom of the cup at the ninth but at one-under through nine holes it was not the effort to threaten the leaders.
Indeed, MacIntyre extended his lead when he turned in 13-under and four shots clear of McIlroy,
McIlroy got himself back into a hopeful victory position in picking-up birdies at 12 and 13 to be now sharing third place at 11-under and only two behind the then leading pair of MacIntyre and Fitzpatrick.
He grabbed a fifth birdie of his round in holing a superb 15-footer at the 15th but then, and to what must have been a collective groan from all on course as well as those watching on TV around the golf world, he gave shot back in finding water smack bang in the middle of the hazard from off the tee at the par-4 16th.
McIlroy made birdie on 18 but again it was a case of another victory slipping through his fingers, the second time in as many events he could have easily won.
In contrast, MacIntyre brilliantly stamped his 2023 Ryder Cup selection credentials with victory, and with the Oban lefty coming from three back at the start of the final round to post 10 birdies in sizzling last day 64 for a 14-under tally before being joined by Matt Fitzpatrick (67).
The pair returned to the 18th tee and while Fitzpatrick complained of being distracted on the tee by photo-snapping fans, he found rough with his second, with MacIntyre taking full advantage with a two-putt winning birdie.
“This win means everything. I was done and out of it some two or three months ago. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know where to go,” he said.
“But I spoke to the right people and there’s so much hard work gone into this, my caddie, family, friends, absolutely everyone, Scott, a few weeks ago, Scott Fawcett (Decade Golf). My approach play has just gone up a notch and it’s shown today
“I hit terrible shots for bogeys on 14 and 15 and was back against the wall, and again, just got one with my dogged attitude of never give up, if I get punched, I punch back.
“The birdies on 16 and 18 were massive and thankfully I got in the playoff.”
And after going so close to gaining automatic European Team selection a year ago at Wentworth, MacIntyre could do no better this week than win on the 2023 host course and do it impressively in front of the European captain, Luke Donald.
“It’s my main goal, my only goal for the next year. I’ve done it on the golf course,” said the Scot.
“Look, start of this week, I didn’t think this was going to be — the style of golf course we’re playing and I was working on a few things Tuesday and Wednesday, was able to control my golf ball this week with wedges and irons and even the hybrid that went into the bag last week.”