Rory McIlroy in the final group on Sunday. It was a recurring theme a handful of times in 2018, along with the Northern Irishman failing to convert any of those opportunities into victory (though he did win at Bay Hill coming from behind).
The same trend took all of one week to re-emerge in 2019. And with the same result, too.
McIlroy entered the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions alone in second and trailing leader Gary Woodland by three strokes. He shot a ho-hum one-under 72 on the Plantation Course to tie for fourth, eight shots behind winner Xander Schauffele.
“I hit good shots and gave myself plenty of chances,” McIlroy said. “I just couldn’t get anything to drop. Anything right-to-left I missed on the high side and anything left-to-right I missed on the low side. I hit good putts it was just one of those days. I just didn’t have it.”
To be fair, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he did. To tie Schauffele, who began the day five strokes back and torched the Plantation Course with a course-record-tying 62, McIlroy would have had to shoot nine-under. That’s a tall ask for anyone.
Still, McIlroy’s day began well enough with two birdies in his first five holes. Had he kept making red numbers on a day when the course played nearly three strokes under par and to easily its lowest scoring average of the week, it would have been interesting to see what impact that might have had on Schauffele.
Maybe none. But we’ll never know.
Instead, like the four times he played in the final group last year on the US PGA Tour, including at the Masters, he failed to turn the opportunity into a win. The last time he did so came at the Tour Championship. That day, he shot a four-over 74. Yesterday at Kapalua, he made just two birdies, including on only one of the four par 5s, and one bogey.
Like then, McIlroy’s putter was the main culprit.
Given how Schauffele played, though, McIlroy had good reason not to be too upset this time. It’s also the first week of a new year, one that might end up being very fruitful for the 29-year-old, who led the field in driving, was sixth in strokes gained tee-to-green and on the positive side of the ledger in strokes gained putting in the first three rounds.
“My attitude was much better today [than last season],” said McIlroy, who also put a new driver, ball and putter in the bag this week. “I was patient. It’s just something I’m going to have to be persistent with, keep putting myself in position.
“I’m going to go home, reflect on this week what was good and what wasn’t so good and work on a few things. This week I showed more versatility in my game. I was hitting different shots — left-to-right, right-to-left, high, low. It’s something I wasn’t quite as comfortable doing last year. Overall it was a positive week.”
In many ways it was. It was also a familiar one.