Friday 20 April 2018

McIlroy 'not even close to full potential' as battling early exit casts cloud for army of fans

Holywood star praises huge Irish support but curses rotten luck after brave fightback proves in vain

Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 14th green during day two of the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Rory McIlroy reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 14th green during day two of the Irish Open at Fota Island. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy fought tooth and nail for the chance to perform for two more days in front of massive galleries at Fota Island this weekend.

That he came up one tantalising stroke short of achieving that ambition is unfortunate not only for the Holywood native, but tens of thousands of spectators denied the opportunity to witness at first hand his spine-tingling array of golf shots.

Especially so given the subtle change evident in the relationship between McIlroy and the home crowd at Fota Island following Wednesday's announcement that he would represent Ireland at the 2016 Olympics.

McIlroy mixed the sensational with the slipshod yesterday in an astonishing roller-coaster 69 which featured an eagle three at 10 and no fewer than six beautiful birdies but was blighted by four bogeys and a numbing double-bogey seven at the fourth.

After Thursday's jaded 74, he missed the cut by the narrowest margin on one-over-par. But for the first time in eight appearances, McIlroy (right) appeared to truly relish playing in his national open and enjoy the appreciation of the people and his disappointment was plain when his novelty race at Fota was run.

"It is disappointing personally not to be able to play in front of those crowds this weekend, but more so for them a little bit," he sighed.

"Not to be here over the weekend for a second year on the bounce at the Irish Open isn't what I want to do when I come back home to play.

"I look back at every Open and say I enjoyed it but can I say I played to my potential in any of those I've played? Definitely not, not even close," McIlroy added emphatically.

"I'd love to be able to produce my best when I come back home and it hasn't been this year or last year or the previous years, but hopefully I'll start to in the future."

Asked if it had anything to do with the demands and expectations place on him in Ireland, McIlroy revealed: "I don't think it's anything to do with that. This definitely is the first Irish Open where I've felt the least pressure.

"I went out there and really enjoyed it and played and fought for every shot and smiled," added the Ulsterman. No question, the fight he showed in the face of adversity yesterday and in recent months contrasts sharply with the pout and slumped shoulders which used too readily appear in the past.

Even after his ball clattered off a tree bough and into oblivion on the par-five fourth yesterday, yielding a seven which stirred memories of his misfortune at the 10th on Masters Sunday in 2011, this McIlroy was not for folding.

"I don't usually moan about luck or try to blame anything, but that was terribly unlucky," said McIlroy. "It could have gone anywhere, just clip a leaf and still go down the fairway or be in the right rough.

"It must have hit something pretty hard and dropped straight down. I couldn't do anything with it apart from go back and play three off the tee."

This was a brutal blow to McIlroy's prospects of making the cut, but he showed his resilience and roused the galleries by hitting a booming drive into the heart of the fifth fairway, then drew throaty roars with birdie there and another at the next.

The new empathy between McIlroy and his legions was apparent when he followed a couple of slipshod bogeys at eight and nine with a phenomenal eagle at the 537 yards 10th.

There are few other players in the world capable of reducing this capricious par five to a driver, eight-iron, but that's what McIlroy did, hitting his soaring second shot over trees to six feet, then holed the putt.

Hopes were dashed when he made bogey after driving in a hazard at 12; rose again when he made birdie two at 13 but his prospects faded with another bogey at 16, where he flew the green, then duffed his first chip out of the back rough on the way to an ugly bogey five.

Needing to pick up at least three shots on the final two holes, McIlroy holed a lengthy birdie putt at 17 before giving himself an outside chance of eagle three at the last with a miracle shot out of the left trees.

Spying a gap in the branches, he hit a low screamer which hooked at least 30 feet in the air as it streaked to within 20 yards of the green. As his chip scooted past the cup, awestruck spectators had further reason to regret McIlroy's absence this weekend.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport