The world No 1 was again left to reflect on what might have been after failing to back up another excellent ball-striking day with the short-stick as he closed with a two-under 70 to finish on eight under par.
McIlroy started the final round four shots off the lead, but he made early inroads with a birdie at the second only to give the shot back at the fifth before four pars completed a workmanlike, outward 36.
He looked set to build a charge after the turn as he finally got mid-range putts to drop at the 11th and 12th, but he could not convert a superb tee-shot to eight feet at the next and he had to settle for all pars coming in.
“I was obviously looking to go out there today and shoot something in the mid-60s, and that would have given me a chance,” McIlroy told Sarah Stirk at the Sky Cart.
“I feel like I again gave myself enough opportunities out there to make some putts, and I just couldn’t. The putter really let me down this week. Right from the first day I couldn’t come to terms with the greens and that was the story of the week.”
McIlroy now heads to Charlotte in North Carolina for next week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, the site of his memorable breakthrough victory in the PGA Tour in 2010 when he fired a stunning, course-record 62 on the final day to win by five.
“I’m always excited to go back to Quail Hollow,” he added. “There are good memories for me there and I love the golf course. I feel with how I’m hitting the ball from tee to green, if I can get a few putts to drop I can get myself into contention there and get another win.”
McIlroy’s eight-under score at TPC Sawgrass matched Ryder Cup team-mate Jamie Donaldson, who birdied four of the first seven holes and picked up further shots at 11 and 12 before parring in to return a commendable 67.
Former champion Henrik Stenson signed off with a six-birdie 68 to finish on six under alongside Scotland’s Russell Knox, but Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher both endured frustrating final rounds and slipped out of the top 30 with rounds of 74 and 73 respectively.
But Padraig Harrington bounced back from his torrid third-round 75 as he made five birdies and kept a bogey off his card to finish on two under.