A tearful Rory McIlroy did everything but make the weekend cut on a bittersweet day for Irish golf at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
With Rathmore Golf Club product, Graeme McDowell sneaking in on the number at one-over par, the stage was set for Rory from the middle of the 18th fairway to do the same; the home favourite having clawed his way back from eight-over par to be teetering just outside the green zone at plus-two.
At impact, a nation held its breath and McIlroy his finish; the 30-year old eyeing his ball up and down as the packed grandstands willed it to the pin. A magnificent seven birdies on the day, he needed just one more but all the good will in the world couldn’t steer his approach to the green.
McIlroy’s hopes fell away to the left side of the putting surface and although he still had a potential chip-in to save the day, the unlikelihood of that happening proved so; McIlroy’s six-under par 65 and joint low-round of the tournament not enough to see him through to the weekend.
“Disappointed not to be here for the weekend,” said McIlroy after making his way to the ‘Mixed Zone’ having gathered his emotions after a tearful interview with SkySports Tim Barter.
“Unbelievably proud of how I handled myself today coming back after what was a very challenging day yesterday. And just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on.
“As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, you know, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them as I was for me. I wanted to be here for the weekend. Selfishly, I wanted to feel that support for two more days.
“But today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I’ve ever played. It’s strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut.
“To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it’s going to be a tough one to get over. I’ll probably rue the finish yesterday, dropping five shots on the last three holes.
“But I felt like I gave a good account of myself today and I can leave here with my head held high.”
The emotions could not have been more different for Graeme McDowell who started the day at two-over par before grinding like a champion to ensure his safe passage to the weekend.
Having worked hard to get back to parity for the tournament, McDowell dropped a shot at 14 to be hovering dangerously above the cut-mark at one-over par. Knowing what he needed to do from there, however, the former US Open champion dug deep to produce four crucial pars in a rousing effort that leaves him not without hope, albeit nine shots back, heading into a monumental moving day.
“Anytime you’re trying to make a cut on a Friday afternoon, especially at a major championship, you’re always a little tight, a little nervous,” said McDowell.
“But this one obviously means a lot, to play the weekend here.
“And anything can happen. I mean, it looks like a tough forecast on Sunday and a great forecast tomorrow. So, go out and shoot a low one in the morning, you never know.
“But like I said, just how much this meant, how symbolic this weekend is, and to make sure I was in there was very important to me.”
There was more despair for Ireland’s charges on day two as the trio of Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and James Sugrue all departed at the halfway stage.
Home hopes now rest with the leader, Shane Lowry and of course McDowell to rescue the fairy-tale ending for Royal Portrush.
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