Hunter Mahan of the US ended Rory McIlroy’s bid to become world No. 1 for the first time with a 2&1 victory over the Northern Irishman in Sunday’s final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
With McIlroy initially failing to replicate the stunning form he produced earlier in the day on the way to a 3&1 semi-final win over third-ranked Briton Lee Westwood, Mahan took advantage with a seven-birdie display.
The 29-year-old never trailed after going ahead at the par-three sixth and he fended off a McIlroy fightback after the turn, ending the match with a comfortable two-putt par on the 17th green.
“Boy, it feels good,” a smiling Mahan told reporters after clinching his fourth USPGA Tour title.
“I didn’t realize how difficult it is to win this week, because it’s six matches and you’re playing against the best players in the world,” Mahan said.
World No. 2 McIlroy, like Mahan appearing in his first Match Play final, would have replaced Britain’s Luke Donald as the game’s leading player had he claimed his first WGC crown.
“Deep down, I wanted to postpone that crowning of the No. 1 player in the world for Rory, but he’ll be No. 1 eventually. I’m not worried about it, I’m sure he’s not,” Mahan said with a grin.
US Open champion McIlroy applauded Mahan’s performance, but conceded that his hugely anticipated morning semi-final against Westwood had sapped some of his energy.
“Maybe mentally and emotionally it did take a little bit out of me, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Hunter played very, very solid golf,” the 22-year-old said.
In dazzling afternoon sunshine at Dove Mountain, both players bogeyed the opening hole, Mahan after duffing a chip from behind the green and McIlroy when he lipped out from four feet.
The next two holes were halved with matching birdies and McIlroy was fortunate not to go one down at the par-four fourth, where he had to take a penalty drop after his tee shot ended up in desert scrub. He bogeyed the hole, as did Mahan, who struck his approach into the front-left greenside bunker.
Mahan finally broke the deadlock to go one up with a conceded birdie at the sixth, where he struck an exquisite tee shot that settled within two feet of the cup.
The American then benefited from a poor matchplay decision by McIlroy at the par-four seventh. After watching Mahan’s approach from 135 yards pitch on and then spin back down the hill below the green, McIlroy followed suit and then failed to reach the green with his chip.
While Mahan bogeyed the hole, he went two up after the Northern Irishman missed a 10-footer to double-bogey.
McIlroy was again in trouble at the par-five eighth, finding a bunker off the tee, failing to reach the green in three and then lipping out with an eight-foot putt to go three down.
Mahan went four up after nearly holing out from the fairway with a 180-yard approach at the par-four 10th, his ball finishing two feet past the cup for a conceded birdie.
Though McIlroy chipped in to eagle the par-five 11th and also birdied the par-four 14th to trim Mahan’s lead to two, the American held him off over the next three holes.