Rory McIlroy kickstarted 2017 with a second place finish at the BMW South African Open, falling short of Graeme Storm after three holes of a play-off.
The 27-year-old, renowned for his prominence at the weekend in events, kept himself in contention, despite trailing Storm’s early dominance after his round-of-the-week 63 on Friday, and closed with a 68 to force a play-off.
Having rested since the DP World Tour Championship in November, McIlroy returned to action on the European Tour and displayed signs of the game that makes his one of the top players in the world and came perilously close to opening his 2017 account with a victory.
38-year-old Storm claimed the second European Tour win of his career just two months after losing his tour card by 100 Euros at the Portugal Masters, but regaining his status in the absence of American Patrick Reed.
English youngster Jordan L Smith fought valiantly amongst McIlroy and Storm throughout Sunday, eventually falling one shot short of the duo.
Storm headed into the final round with a confident three shot lead over second placed McIlroy, but the Englishman failed to reach the levels of his previous rounds on Sunday and it took McIlroy until just the 13th hole to remove the three shot deficit; by the 14th the world-number-two was leading.
In the final stretch McIlroy showed signs of uncharacteristic nerves under pressure from the trailing duo Storm and Smith. McIlroy found the back downslope of the greenside bunker of the 17th, which took him two attempts to escape, and had to settle for bogey whilst Storm took a par to tie McIlroy for the lead at 18-under-par.
The trio headed to the 18th with Smith trailing the leaders by one. A huge drive from McIlroy left only a wedge into the green. Storm and Smith found themselves outside McIlroy but all three left with par; Smith was left in a very respectable third with a play-off set up between McIlroy and Storm.
Back on the 18th the pair found the green in similar circumstances again, and still nothing could separate them with a par a piece; a return to the 18th tee again.
Another three wood from Storm left him a comfortable approach, but, having found severe danger down the right, some magic from McIlroy left the play-off wide open – with spectators questioning what would be needed to separate the two. Pars again and a the play-off continued.
At the third time of asking Storm produced his closest approach shot yet, whilst McIlroy missed the green. McIlroy’s chip left him seven foot for par and opened the door for Storm, whose long putt missed the cup by millimetres. In response, however, McIlroy missed his seven foot par-putt and granted Storm a joyous opening to 2017.
After two months off, the signs were very promising for McIlroy to move straight back in with a runner-up finish. Attentions now turn to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship where both McIlroy and Storm will tee it up again. This time, however, the field intensifies.