CHARLIE MULQUEEN: Pádraig fades as Rory’s rise goes on

As Rory McIlroy became golf’snumber one-ranked player,three-time major champion Pádraig Harrington slipped out of West Palm Beach almost unnoticed on his way back home to Ireland.

While McIlroy captured the Honda Classic with a 12 under par total to secure the global top spot, Harrington finished 71st of the 76 qualifiers, needing to birdie on the 18th to break 80 in his final round. He has dropped two more places in the rankings to 89th and inevitably, we are left to wonder where the respective careers of the two talents go from here.

McIlroy’s path to glory seems paved with gold. Only Tiger Woods attained the number one spot at a younger age and even if Rory (22) never goes on to emulate or surpass the achievements of the American, he will surely enjoy a wonderfully successful golfing career.

The quality of his golf game has never been in doubt and when the pressure came down the stretch and entering the dreaded ‘Bear Trap’ at PGA West on Sunday night, McIlroy demonstrated that his mental strength is equally dependable.

Countless times in the past, Woods has frightened off opponents with his final day heroics and he shone again on this occasion with a superb closing round of 62, which contained two eagles and four birdies.

The legendary Jack Nicklaus looked on and while sincerely expressing his admiration for McIlroy informed TVviewers that “Tiger is making him earn the number one spot and that’s only as it should be.”

McIlroy admitted that Sunday’s success and elevation to the number one spot meant more to him than he had anticipated because he had been able to withstand a fierce attack from Woods in the final hours.

Now, he turns his attentions to this week’s $8.5m (€6.4m) WGC Cadillac World Championship over the “Blue Monster” course at Doral, with huge expectations on his young shoulders.

It would be an enormous ask to expect him to maintain his amazing run of 10 top three finishes in his last 11 tournaments (not including victory in the Shanghai Masters), with wins both in Hong Kong and Florida.

But that’s the expectation the game’s number one player must measure up to. Whether he does so or not this week may be in doubt after the exertions of the World Match Play final and the Honda Classic success in the space of eight days. Over time, though, there is no doubt he will be more than equal to the task with the array of talents in his arsenal.

The Cadillac tournament has attracted 73 of the best players in the world including the top 50 in the rankings.

The apparently revitalised Woods, the in-form Phil Mickelson, champion Nick Watney and Irish trio McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke will all be there.

McDowell is capable of a big week, having played himself gradually back into form in recent weeks and tied for 9th in the Honda having started with a moderate 73 before compiling rounds of 64, 69 and 69. How sad it was, though, to see Harrington fall so far out of contention.

A closing 79 (that included a triple bogey seven and a double bogey five) was especially depressing for a man who has always battled to the last putt and looked in decent form having shot 70, 68 and 72 over the preceding three days. He now has a couple of weeks to try and get things right before returning to the US for the Shell Houston Open the week before the Masters.


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