Rory McIlroy left Carnoustie content after his Open Championship bid fell two shots short of Francesco Molinari’s eight-under-par winning score.
The Holywood star ignited his tournament with an eagle at 14 on Sunday as he set his sights on a grandstand finish, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be as he parred his way home for a share of second spot.
Still, in testing conditions McIlroy seemed more than pleased with his week’s work with one more chance at Major glory lying in wait at the PGA Championship at Bellerive GC in August.
“I walk away from here with no regrets,” he said of a much improved week. “I played the way I wanted to play this week and it gives me a lot of encouragement going into the final Major of the year.”
Indeed the old bounce associated with McIlroy in his pomp looked to have returned to his step as his name loomed alongside Woods at the top end of a Major Sunday leaderboard once more. It was a feeling that he’s played without for some time, with the thrill of being the one to potentially spoil the Tiger fairytale comeback only heightening the senses down the stretch at Carnoustie.
“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was ‘go and spoil the party here’. It was cool. It was really cool.”
It was hard not to be taken by the presence of Woods as the famous red jersey made a charge on the field in Scotland, and although it may not be vintage Tiger just yet, McIlroy now expects Woods to kick on to become a mainstay challenger for years to come on Tour.
“I mean, it’s not Tiger that, you know, Phil and Ernie and those guys had to deal with. It’s a different version. But he’s right there. He’s right there. He’s getting himself in the mix. He looked good in D.C. a couple weeks back. He’s looked good here.
“He’s played a full schedule. He’s healthy. I wouldn’t say we’re worried about him, but he’s one of those guys that’s always in with a shot.”
Having occupied top-spot facing into the clutch holes on the back-nine, an uncharacteristic collapse spelled Tiger’s doom and it’s such wobbles that give credence to McIlroy’s claims.
“With the Tiger we have to face, he does things that maybe he didn’t do 10, 15 years ago. But it’s still great to have him back. It’s still great for golf but this was his first taste of Major championship – I don’t know, drama, I guess, for quite a while. Even though he’s won 14 [Majors], you have to learn how to get back. I’m relearning. I feel like I’ve won quite a few recently, but you still have to relearn to deal with it.”
That being said, it’s well documented that Tiger was a hero of McIlroy’s when growing up, so was there any part of Rory willing his former idol to another Claret Jug victory?
“No, not at all,” he laughed. But when pushed hypothetically if he was watching on from afar, McIlroy added; “Yeah, maybe if I was at home with a broken ankle like a few years ago, it might have been cool, but when you’re the one trying to beat him, no, there’s no appreciation there!”
However despite Tiger’s welcomed presence, Sunday belonged to one man and one man only, God, I mean, Francesco Molinari with McIlroy unequivocal in his praise of the deserved Champion Golfer of 2018 who was miraculous himself at times during the championship.
“He’s always been a great player but with how he’s played this year, there’s just maybe a little more belief. I played with him the final day at Wentworth, where he won, and he didn’t miss a shot. So there’s going to be a lot of European guys vying for his partnership in the foursomes at the Ryder Cup, that’s for sure.”
Of his own performance, McIlroy’s beliefs were just as clear with this week not so much one that got away but one on which to build ahead of his final shot at Major glory in 2018.
“I feel like it’s a good week. One guy out of 156 is going to win. 155 other guys are going to leave a little disappointed. But I committed to everything. I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. You know, it just wasn’t… I just ran out of holes.”