Adam Scott surrendered the chance to move to world No.1 when he frittered away a seven shot halfway lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida.
Despite losing ground in the third round Scott took a three-shot lead into the last day and was expected to take the top ranking from Tiger Woods with a win.
But he stumbled to a four-over-par 76 and finished third, two shots behind winner, American Matt Every, who closed with a 70 and claimed his first US PGA Tour title by one shot from countryman Keegan Bradley.
Scott was playing at Bay Hill for the first time since missing the cut in 2009 and opened with an equal course record 62.
But in a blow to his defence of the Masters next month, the Queenslander had five bogeys in his last round with just a single birdie. He failed to make a birdie in the last 14 holes as Every came from four shots back at the start of the final day to win and claim a start at the Masters.
Bradley had a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff but missed to left of the hole.
Despite his collapse Scott was upbeat about the tournament overall.
"I take a lot of positive stuff out of it," he said. "I didn’t putt at all well today. It was just a little out of sorts for whatever reason.
"But I somewhat achieved what I wanted out of coming here. Playing in contention over the weekend was fun. I definitely identified a few areas that I’ll be working on in the next couple of weeks. And I’m looking forward to that. It was good to be back in the mix again.
"Today was a bit shaky but this course was asking a lot of everyone today, I think. And my short game just wasn’t there, so that needs to be tightened up and probably shows that I need to do a bit more work on it to hold up under the pressure."
Scott said he was "annoyed" he had not done better but far from downcast.
"Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on yourself. Sometimes you don’t. And I think I was getting into a really good spot and had an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I’m taking confidence, anyway, from just some good play," he said.
Matt Jones was the next best Australian tied for 14th while Victorians Marc Leishman (T31) and Aaron Baddeley (T35) also put in respectable performances.
Every, who grew up in the area and used to attend the tournament as a kid, broke through in his 93rd US tour start.
‘‘It’s hard. It’s tough,’’ Every said. ‘‘You never know if it’s going to happen. It’s nice to get it done.
‘‘It’s really cool. I’ve been really close. I’ve had a ton of looks. I still can’t believe I won.’’
Every led Scott by three strokes with three holes to play but found a cart path to the right off the 16th tee and hit a tree with his second shot on the way to a bogey.
The door opened for Scott but he missed a six metre eagle putt and a one metre birdie second putt to the left of the cup.
Every, meanwhile, saved par from a bunker at the par three 17th to stay two ahead of Scott, who missed a two metre par putt at 17.
It was tough day for Scott who found bunkers with his first two shots and missed a two metre par putt at the first, dropping his lead to two shots.
He then found water left off the third tee on his way to another bogey that sliced his buffer over Every to a single shot.
When Every sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the 10th and added an eight-foot birdie at the par five 12th to reach 14-under he was one ahead.
By: Robert Grant