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Saturday, March 10, 2012
Updated: March 11, 10:34 PM ET
No quit in Rory McIlroy

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- This would have been an easy week to be a 22-year-old kid. Hang out at South Beach. Take in a Heat game. Lounge around at the spa. Soak in the glory.

Rory McIlroy is No. 1 in the world, and after his recent run of brilliance, who would have blamed him if he chose to enjoy spoils of his success? Golf is a fickle game, fraught with ups and downs, highs and lows. The swing feels good one day, poor the next. Nobody contends every week, right?

Well, in perhaps the best sign that the kid is going to be around for awhile, McIlroy hardly approached the weekend at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in such fashion. Yeah, he checked out LeBron and D. Wade, but he didn't check out of the golf tournament.

McIlroy ultimately came up two shots short Sunday as England's Justin Rose won the most significant title of his career. But that McIlroy was there to make all the fellas sweat on a surprisingly tough TPC Blue Monster course sounded like the guy who walked off injured used to talk.

"There's no room for complacency out here at all," McIlroy said after a final-round 67 gave him another top-five finish. "I know that every week's an opportunity to win, every week's an opportunity to play well, and even though I didn't play my best over the first couple of days, I fought back nicely at the weekend, and posted a couple of good numbers.

"… There were no thoughts of me relaxing this week or thinking that my job's done. I know better than that, and I know I still have to keep working hard and giving it 100 percent."

That sounds like a softer version of Tiger Woods, who'd rather entertain the media at his home than admit to ever mailing it in. Woods would stare through anyone who ever suggested that he ease off or lower expectations.

But as Woods was exiting the property Sunday with another Achilles issue that cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings, McIlroy was making an eagle at the 12th hole to shoot some energy into a final round dominated by Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley mishaps along with Rose's inability to put the tournament away.

Ultimately, Rose's birdie at the 14th hole gave him the cushion he needed to claim his fourth PGA Tour title and give himself a firm grip on a European Ryder Cup spot he missed out on in 2010.

And his victories have come at some pretty big events: Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament, Woods' AT&T National, the BMW Championship -- one of the FedEx cup playoff events -- and now a World Golf Championship event.

Rose, 31, said he had no idea that McIlroy was in the mix -- and probably glad he didn't know.

"It just goes to show that the really good players, they wait for their run," Rose said. "They never panic. They know they are going to get hot at some point during a tournament and they are always sharp at the end. So it's just more testament to how good he is."

Rose knows a bit about being a prodigy, a young player with expectations.

He shocked the golf world when he contended at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, the one where Mark O'Meara won in a playoff and where a 22-year-old Woods finished a shot back.

Rose was a 17-year-old amateur, a British lad who wowed the locals when he holed a pitch shot on the final hole for a birdie that gave him a fourth-place finish. Awash in adulation, Rose turned pro within days to embark on the pay-for-play game -- only to miss 22 consecutive cuts.

It is now 14 years later, and while he has won on the European Tour, even winning the money title, the victories have not been as plentiful on this side of the Atlantic.

"I'm growing old, 31 now, just kind of having learned the hard way a little bit,'' he said.

McIlroy was just 17 when he turned pro, too, and while he didn't endure the low points that Rose experienced, it is only in the past year that he has begun to blossom. McIlroy's third-place finish at Doral is his 11th top-five in his past 12 starts dating to the PGA Championship in August. During that span, he has two victories and his worst finish was 11th.

He began the day 8 strokes behind Watson, and was still well back when he birdied the seventh, eighth and 10th holes. Watson stumbled with a front-nine 39, Bradley made bogeys at the eighth and 10th holes, and Rose's bogey at the sixth allowed McIlroy to pull within a stroke when he holed out a chip shot for an eagle at the 12th.

McIlroy was 2 behind when he stepped to the 18th tee and figured he needed a birdie to force a tie. He ended up making a bogey, which left him two strokes back when Rose finished with a bogey.

It was a third-place finish that, after being runner-up at the Match Play and then winning Honda, looks pretty good.

McIlroy knows that. He feels good about his game. He now has three weeks off before the Masters, the prize he let get away last year.

There was no shame in letting a chance get away Sunday, especially given the enormity of the past few weeks. This year, McIlroy has finished second, fifth, second, first and third in his five starts.

And yet, there is something refreshing about him not being satisfied.

"I'll look back on what a good weekend it was, and just to give myself a chance was a pretty good effort," he said. "I just couldn't close it out the way I wanted to. It would have been nice to get another one this week."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.