Whereas Stricker, who enjoyed a three-shot lead after 54 holes, never missed a fairway in a spectacular outward nine of six under 30, and Brandt Jobe and Matt Kuchar maintained the pressure at the top of the leaderboard, McIlroy lacked the consistency that would have kept him in the running for the $1.16m (€790,000) winner’s cheque.
Five behind Stricker at the outset, he picked up an early birdie at the second but quickly demonstrated that he still hadn’t eradicated the errors that dogged his efforts over the opening three rounds by narrowly missing the third green and failing to get down in chip and putt. McIlroy was quickly back on song and when he brilliantly reeled off four successive birdies from the 5th to move 11 under, he remained four behind Stricker but only a shot out of second place.
However, a wayward drive at the 10th cost a bogey and while he did extremely well to pitch and putt the long 11th for his sixth birdie of the day, he fell out of contention by dropping shots at the 13th and 14th.
McIlroy picked up his 22nd birdie of the tournament at the par 5 15th but all those gains were spoiled by a lack of consistency that also saw him pick up 10 bogeys and two doubles.
A threatened thunderstorm caused a weather delay when McIlroy, three under for the round and 10 under for the tournament, had completed 16 holes but by that stage his chance of a second victory on the PGA US Tour had long since passed. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village course was taken to the cleaners by several players and when play stopped, the hugely impressive Stricker was still out in front on 18 under after 12 holes, three ahead of Jobe, 15 under after 13 with Kuchar, 14 under after 14 and Dustin Johnson, who closed with a superb 65, on 12 under for the 72 holes.
Kevin Woodland was in fifth place on 11 under after 17 followed by McIlroy, 6th on his own, at 10 under with two still to play. New world number one Luke Donald was tied for 8th after shooting a final round of 68.
Meanwhile, Swede Alex Noren won his second European Tour title at Celtic Manor yesterday — and this time all it needed was solid golf rather than a moment of magic. His previous win came in Switzerland two years ago after he sank a bunker shot for an eagle four holes from the end.
Noren has now added the Saab Wales Open at the Ryder Cup venue by two strokes from Dane Anders Hansen and Frenchman Gregory Havret after a closing 70 containing just two birdies and one mistake.
That came on the driveable 15th when, with confidence high and a three-stroke cushion, he went for the green with a three-wood and saw it kick down a bank into a hazard.
A bogey five brought the gap down to two, but he parred the last three holes for a nine under par total of 275. It completed a dream week that began with him qualifying for the US Open — his first ever major in America.
But Noren’s work goes on. Winning the title and £300,000 (€336,000) does not spare him from 36 holes of Open Championship qualifying at Sunningdale today.
His name follows that of Graeme McDowell onto the trophy — and last year, of course, G-Mac went on to capture the US Open as well.
McDowell had hopes of a successful defence when he was second at halfway, but a nightmare Saturday 81 and even an improvement of 10 strokes yesterday lifted him only to 30th place.