The winner over the past couple of months of the British Open and US PGA Championships went into the final round level with American Billy Horschel. However, the shortcomings in his game that had been evident in the earlier rounds again came to the fore, this time in disastrous fashion, and as the shots slipped away before and after the turn, the challenge to Horschel was taken up by the veteran Jim Furyk, the fast finishing Justin Rose and American Chris Kirk.
With three holes to play, Horschel stood 11 under, Furyk was 10 under after 16 and Rose eight under playing the 17th.
Rory was still moving along nicely until poor club selection and an even worse iron shot dealt his prospects a massive blow at the outstanding 224 yards, par 3 6th where an island green and a freshening wind blowing into the players’ faces presented a serious challenge. After a tentative start by McIlroy and Horschel, both men birdied the 4th before the American rolled in a 20-footer for a fine birdie at the 551 yards 5th.
With the honour on the 6th tee, Horschel chose a three iron from the tee and hit a beautiful shot some 20 feet short of the hole. For some reason best known to himself, McIlroy opted for a five iron which he almost certainly tried to force to reach the putting surface and it came as no surprise when instead he pulled the shot left and into the lake.
Horschel’s par three left him in front on 11 under par, three ahead of McIlroy, and a charging Furyk had slipped in between them as he used all his experience to move to nine under and performing with a calm and confidence that suggested he was in the mood to challenge once again for the FedEx jackpot that he already banked in 2010.
McIlroy’s adventures continued at the 600 yards par five 9th. In aiming for a big drive to reach the green, he carved the ball so far wide of the fairway that it finished within inches of an out of bounds fence. He played a decent enough recovery but still needed to chip and putt for a bogey six which meant that at the halfway stage, he was back in 4th place on seven under behind Horschel, 11 under; Furyk, 10 under and Rose, eight under.
Disappointingly, Rory appeared to allow his head to drop and bogeys at the 10th and 11th sent him back into the pack and out of contention for the big payout.
Meanwhile, US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson watched the final day with mixed feelings. While Furyk demonstrated that he is a reliable and tough competitor, Watson cannot have been happy to see two of his three “wild card” picks, Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan, finish towards the back of the 29 strong field on eight over.
Even then, Simpson and Mahan finished four ahead of young Jordan Spieth,while Jimmy Walker (3 over) , Patrick Reed (4 over) and Zach Johnson (5 over) were all struggling to find form a week before next week’s battle at Gleneagles.
Even though US Open champion Martin Kaymer had a miserable week and finished on eight over, Watson’s European counterpart Paul McGinley had reason to be content with the performance of his four team members in the Atlanta field. McIlroy did disappoint on the final day but McGinley will rightly rate this as a temporary blip while Rose performed superbly to get into contention and Sergio Garcia closed with a 66 for a share of 8th.