RORY McIlroy confessed to a feeling of disappointment despite shooting a final-round 67 to claim a share of second place at the Kolon Korea Open.
As his trophy drought continued, the former world No. 1 felt his approach play was so assured that he “could have shot 61 or 62”.
The Northern Irishman, who had fallen ten shots behind the lead after three rounds, carded five birdies in his four-under-par round to end one behind winner Kang Sung-hoon.
It was a strong finish after what had been a frustrating third day for the world No. 6 at the Woo Jeong Hills Country Club course.
The only blemish in the final round for McIlroy, who had been playing his first tournament for a month, was a bogey at the 16th. The star attraction at the OneAsia Tour event said afterwards: “I could have shot anything, absolutely anything.
“I only missed two greens and had so many chances, but it was like the story of yesterday – I just didn’t hole enough putts. I created so many more chances that it could have been 61, 62. It just wasn’t to be. I didn’t birdie any of the par-fives, which was disappointing. I felt like it could have been so much lower the last couple of days.”
The search for the season’s first title continued for McIlroy, who played the Korean event after a four-week break, but his approach play was a source of encouragement ahead of next week’s BMW Masters in Shanghai. “A little frustrating, but I’m happy with how I hit it. I hit the ball really well off the tee and my iron play was very solid as well,” said McIlroy.
“I feel like my game is in good shape going into the next few weeks, and that’s a good thing. If I keep giving myself all those birdie chances, sooner or later I’m going to start holing a few.”
McIlroy was three off the pace when he completed his round, but the capitulation of overnight leader Kim Hyung-tae may have exacerbated his sense of frustration.
Kim had begun the final round with a four-stroke lead, but shot a six-over 77, which included a triple-bogey six at the 13th, to finish alongside McIlroy on three under.
Overnight leader Kim was on course for victory standing on the 17th tee, but was told by an official he had been penalised two strokes for grounding a club in an area deemed to be a hazard on the 13th hole. The South Korean then bogeyed the 17th and could only par the 18th to allow compatriot Kang to pip him to the OneAsia title.
Kim then decided to go back to the scene of the crime on the 13th and argued for two hours that he had not grounded his club before finally accepting his penalty and signing his card for a six-over-par 77.
That left Kang, who carded a final-round 69, to bag the title as Kim finished tied second on three-under with McIlroy and South Korean trio of Lee Sang-hee, Mo Joong-kyung and amateur Lee Chang-woo.
The 26-year-old Kang, who also won the Asian Tour’s CJ Invitational last week, felt terrible for Kim. “I’m a really good friend of his so at the moment it doesn’t feel great. Even though I won the tournament, I just feel really sorry for him,” he said. “I was actually out there to celebrate for him, but I don’t know, I don’t know what to say. It’s horrible.”
Starting the day ten strokes back, McIlroy put on a master-class from tee-to-green but endured another difficult day on the greens as he signed for a four-under-par 67 and was left wondering what might have been.
Three other Koreans – Lee Sang-hee, Lee Chang-woo and Joong-kyung – also finished on three-under 281, and Kang scooped the title after a strong back nine, including a crucial birdie at the last.
Kang was one over for the day after 11, but birdies at the 14th and 15th, as well as the 18th, saw him come home in 32 for a two-under-par round of 69.