Mahan thwarts McIlroy to emerge champion

Northern Irishman fails in bid to capture top spot

American Hunter Mahan ended Rory McIlroy's bid to become world number one 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 his way to a 3&1 semifinal 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 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 PGA Tour title and a second World Golf Championships (WGC) crown, having previously won the 2010 Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

“I didn't realise how difficult it is to win this week because it's six matches and you're playing against the best players in the world,” said Mahan, who defeated fellow American Mark Wilson 2-1 in their semifinal.

“I played well from tee to green, putting to chipping to driving, irons, everything was there. And I needed everything to win. I'm very proud of how I played,” added Mahan, who totalled 35 birdies during the week from 96 holes.

World number two McIlroy, like Mahan appearing in his first Match Play final, would have replaced Britain's Luke Donald as the game's leading player when the rankings are issued on Monday had he claimed his first WGC crown.

“Deep down, I wanted to postpone that crowning of the number one player in the world for Rory,” Mahan said with a grin. “But he'll be number one eventually. I'm not worried about it, I'm sure he's not.”

US Open champion McIlroy applauded Mahan's performance, but conceded that his hugely anticipated morning semifinal 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. “During the course of the week, he played the best golf and deserved to win.”

Results (final): Hunter Mahan (US) bt Rory McIlroy (Bri) 2 & 1. (Semifinals): McIlroy bt Lee Westwood (Brit) 3&1; Mahan bt Mark Wilson (US) 2&1

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