He looked to be very much on the right road when a 25-foot eagle putt found the target at the opening par five hole. It left him 12 under for the tournament and only one behind early pace setter, Australian Adam Scott.
However, the Down man’s game quickly went to pieces and three bogeys in five holes, at the 3rd, 6th and 7th, set him back to one over for the day and nine under overall, at that stage six behind a rampant Scott who got off to a blistering start and was five under for his day after six.
McIlroy’s putter earlier in the $6.8m (€6.1m) event helped him to three fine rounds of 69, 67, and 67 but it went distinctly cold yesterday and at the leaders battled it out to an exciting climax, he failed badly to keep in step.
The bottom finally fell out of his challenge when he ran up a six at the par five 11th and it became a hat-trick of bogeys when Rory also dropped shots at 12 and 13 .
Pádraig Harrington looked a good bet for at least a top ten finish when he birdie the opening par 5 hole to move to seven under but after that the front nine proved something of a disaster for the three major champion who this week will be defending the Honda Classic in Florida.
Harrington dropped shots at the 3rd and 6th before his hopes of a big finish were dashed when he ran up a triple bogey seven at the 7th.
He went on to add a 75 to earlier rounds of 71, 70 and 66 for two under par and a share of 45th.
Meanwhile Marcus Fraser took advantage of Soomin Lee’s dramatic late collapse to clinch the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia for his first win in almost six years.
Lee led by two approaching the final three holes at Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur but the South Korean double-bogeyed at the 16th and 18th.
That allowed Fraser to steal in and take the title with a flawless three under par 68 giving him a two-shot victory.
It is the Australian’s third European Tour triumph and his first since lifting the Ballantine’s Championship in April 2010, with the 37-year-old revealing he was spurred on by his children.
He told the European Tour’s official website: “It’s unbelievable, six years since my last one.
“My kids keep saying to me every time I walk out the door, ‘Dad, can you bring home a trophy?’ And I say, ‘I’ll try, I’ll try.’
“This time I get to take one home and they can take it to school for show and tell, which is going to be pretty cool. That’s the main reason I wanted to win.”
Lee’s round of 73 dropped him back to 13 under par overall and a tie for second place alongside Miguel Tabuena, with the 21-year-old Filipino matching Fraser’s closing 68.