CHARLIE MULQUEEN: Irish top four draw little comfort in Arizona

Excuses abounded to try and explain away the failure of the Irish golfers in the Accenture World Match Play Championship but none were convincing.

We heard that Rory McIlroy was “rusty” after his winter lay-off, that Pádraig Harrington would have been fine but for his putting, that Graeme McDowell tired as the week went on and that Shane Lowry is still finding his way at this level.

There is substance in the argument that Lowry, 25, has been consistently raising his game to rub shoulders with the game’s finest in Arizona and then defeated the world number one in the first round. However there is also a widespread belief that the Offaly man must lose weight and improve his fitness if he is to capitalise fully on his talents. He will be pleased, though, to have improved six places in the world rankings to 62nd and yesterday was trying for one of four places in a qualifier for this week’s Honda Classic at PGA National, West Palm Beach, Florida.

As for McIlroy being “rusty”, it is hard to take that too seriously. In an apparent effort to reduce the number of tournaments he plays in 2013, he made the Match Play his first competitive outing in more than a month. That was his decision and a very strange one, it has to be said. As for the rustiness issue, Ian Poulter hadn’t played for six weeks before Tucson and made it all the way to the semi-finals.

And it was also Rory’s call to sign a mega-money deal with Nike and with it a drastic change in the golf clubs and balls with which he was so familiar and with which he enjoyed such success. After missing the cut in Abu Dhabi in early January and losing in the first round of the Match Play to Lowry, it will be fascinating to see how he fares this week in his defence of the Honda. Hopefully, he is correct when insisting that it’s a kink in his swing rather than a problem with his new gear that is causing the early season misgivings. A failure to play all 72 holes at West Palm Beach would certainly set the tongues wagging and send Twitterland into overdrive.

Harrington lost in the first round of the Match Play for the fourth successive year and the seventh time in all. He bowed out tamely against Graeme McDowell with the general acceptance that he would have been just fine had his putter been in better working order. Perhaps, but it was very disappointing to watch the way in which he failed to capitalise on getting back to level terms against G-Mac with three holes to play having been three down at the turn. It certainly wasn’t the putter that caused him to lose the 16th or send him crashing into the desert at the 18th, leading to the concession of hole and match.

Fortunately for Pádraig, he clung on to 50th place when the new world rankings were announced yesterday and so he claims the last spot in the WGC Cadillac World Championship at Doral next week.

In the end, McDowell fared best of the Irish — even though he performed well below par in losing a poor quarter-final contest against the Australian Jason Day. At least he admitted as much, stating with typical honesty that “I wasn’t on the button with my golf swing this week.”

McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who remains 19th in the world rankings, move on to the Honda where Tiger Woods, another first round flop in Arizona, will be seeking his second win of the season.

The €1.5 million Tshwane Open at Copperleaf, Centurion, South Africa (Feb 28-Mar 3), is the feature event on the European Tour with Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and David Higgins in the field.

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