A late rally wasn't quite enough for Rory McIlroy at the Omega European Masters, as the newly-minted FedExCup champ lost in a five-man playoff after an electric close to his final round.
McIlroy was well off the pace before a furious run of birdies, with makes on five of six holes from Nos. 12-17. It was that final birdie on No. 17 that truly opened the door for a possible win, as tournament leader Sebastian Soderberg followed McIlroy's make with a three-putt bogey from close range to create a logjam at the top.
McIlroy's antics weren't done, though, as he sprayed his final tee shot into the trees, just feet from a plaque commemorating a memorable escape in 1993 by Seve Ballesteros. The Ulsterman chipped out, nearly holed his lengthy third shot en route to a Ballesteros-like par save and ended up in a playoff at 14 under that also included Soderberg, Andres Romero, Lorenzo Gagli and Kalle Samooja.
One week after leaving East Lake with an extra $15 million in his account, McIlroy gave himself a chance for another win by hitting his approach on the first extra hole to within 15 feet. But after Soderberg made a putt from similar length, McIlroy was unable to match him.
"I made enough birdies, but I just didn't quite have it over the weekend," McIlroy said. "Obviously made a great run there on the back nine today. Hit one good shot there into 18 (in the playoff), and the putt just lacked a bit of speed. I felt like I started it on the right line, I just didn't hit it with the pace that I wanted."
When Samooja missed from inside 10 feet, Soderberg had his first career European Tour win during a week when he began with his 2020 status in jeopardy.
"I don't know what to do with this, really. Didn't play my best today, but my chipping and putting was unbelievable," said Soderberg, who carded five straight birdies from Nos. 10-14 to pull in front. "I thought it was exciting enough just to come out here and play with Rory. I can't really describe it right now. It hasn't really sunk in yet."
For McIlroy, it's another near-miss in the altitude of the Swiss Alps. He appeared in line for what would have been his first Euro Tour win when he made his tournament debut in 2008, only to miss a short par putt on the 72nd hole and lose in a playoff. Sunday marked a similar result for the world No. 2, who vaulted into contention with a second-round 63 and carded a 3-under 67 in the final round after a red-hot close.
While the PGA Tour remains in a two-week offseason, there's very little time to rest for McIlroy and other European stars. He's expected to skip the next two weeks before playing two events in a row, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth followed by the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland at the end of the month.
"This is my seventh event in eight weeks. I've played a lot of golf," McIlroy said. "I think just playing that much, sometimes those mental errors creep in here or there. The sloppy finish yesterday probably cost me, but I fought back today and I did my best. Just wasn't meant to be."