Rónán MacNamara in Hoylake
Rory McIlroy is already looking ahead to challenging for some end of season awards after he ended his 151st Open Championship campaign with a 20th top-10 since his last major win in 2014.
McIlroy improved each day, carding rounds of 71, 70, 69 and 68 for a six-under total but it wasn’t enough to put the squeeze on Brian Harman who at the time of writing is coasting to his first major title. The Holywood man will now enter his tenth year without that elusive fifth major title but he insists he won’t be burdened by such thoughts and his game is in a great place to win some big events towards the end of the year.
“Every time I tee it up or most times I tee it up, I’m right there. I can’t sit here and be too frustrated. My game is in a, you think about my performances in the majors between like 2016 and 2019, it’s a lot better than that.
“Again, I’m optimistic about the future, and just got to keep plugging away.
“I don’t think that way. I think about trying to go and win a fourth FedExCup here in a couple weeks’ time, go try and win a fifth Race to Dubai, go and win a fifth Ryder Cup. I just keep looking forward.
“And after what happened at Whistling Straits I think personally for me and then for the rest of the team I don’t think we could be more motivated to go to Rome and get that Ryder Cup back. So a lot of golf to play individually until then but I think a lot of our attentions will turn to Rome after this.”
Teeing off a whopping nine shots behind Harman after a poor putting performance on Saturday, McIlroy brought a dash of brightness to the miserable conditions with a hat trick of birdies starting with a 48-footer on the 3rd, which lifted the spirits of the packed galleries who underneath their umbrellas were thinking ‘maybe, just maybe.’
Perhaps it’s the most McIlroy thing for his putter to get hot in the lashing rain and his hopes were further raised when Harman obediently threw in a pair of early bogeys. Three-under through five holes for the second successive day, the four-time major winner was unable to maintain his momentum and a poor birdie effort on 9 and a bogey on 10 dealt a fatal blow to his flickering hopes.
Putts shaved holes on 12 and 13 before 13-foot birdie on 14 raised hopes that maybe he could go on a late charge. A missed fairway on the par-5 15th meant he had to lay up and he was unable to find the much needed birdie before a cruel horseshoe on 16 was Hoylake’s way of telling him it was not to be his week.
“Solid performance, improved on my score everyday,” smiled McIlroy. “Yeah, I missed a few putts yesterday, felt like I putted a bit better today, it was just hard I needed to go out and shoot something like a 63 or a 64 but it’s really hard to do that in those conditions.
“I got off to the really good start but just hard to keep that going as you can see from the leaderboard nobody is going that low. Just tricky conditions out there, and very reluctant to hit the driver because the club face gets wet and the ball could go anywhere. Sort of had to lay back off tees and try to play as conservatively and as smart as possible.
“Over the last two years would I have loved to have picked one of those off that I finished up there? Absolutely. Yeah, overall solid performance, not spectacular, but a lot of optimism going into the rest of the year.”
Reflecting on his major season which featured the Augusta disaster, a top-10 in the PGA Championship and an agonising runner-up finish to Wyndham clark in LA, McIlroy feels he just needs to keep banging on the door.
“Augusta, just forget about that. Didn’t feel like I had my best stuff at Oak Hill and pieced it together and finished seventh. Had a great chance at LA, didn’t quite get the job done.
“This week, if it weren’t for one guy I’d be right there. I’m playing well, there’s nothing else I can really say. Playing good, keep putting myself in there.
“At the end of the day when I look back on my career am I going to remember my fifth-place finish at Hoylake in 2023? Probably not but still another really solid performance and still a lot of golf to play this year.”