McIlroy: 'I had to forget about Claret Jug on Friday'
Rory McIlroy knew in his heart that the Open championship of 2016 was gone beyond him last Friday evening.
The four-time Major winner hoped against hope that he could somehow gouge out enough birdies on Saturday to give himself some kind of chance to make a charge, but the deceptively difficult Royal Troon links and the Scottish winds and rain on his side of the draw, particularly on Friday, did him in.
That, and some errant putting which halted McIlroy's momentum over the four days as he sought to hit top gear.
Rounds of 69 and 71 for 140 left him eight shots adrift of 36-hole pacesetter Phil Mickelson heading into the weekend.
"After the second day, I was never going to win this golf tournament. Look what the guys (Henrik Stenson and Mickelson) have done. There's no chance of me getting to that score.
"The goal was to finish as high up as I could this week. I was going out there today with the goal of trying to get world ranking points, trying to get Race to Dubai points, FedExCup points. That was my goal this weekend.
"I sort of forgot about the Claret Jug, and just tried to focus on finishing as high as I can, and felt like I did that pretty well today," said McIlroy.
McIlroy played alongside Argentina's Emiliano Grillo yesterday as cold winds blew from the sea across the course.
He turned in 32 with four birdies on the card, and it could have been six if a couple of short putts had not slipped by on the third and fourth holes.
As always, the back nine surrendered very little to the players, and two birdies and two bogeys was the best McIlroy could manage.
He shot 67, his lowest round of the championship, but had to settle for tied-5th on 4-under par 280.
"There were a few mistakes in there, and if I could take back anything it would probably be the first nine holes yesterday.
"I didn't get off to the greatest of starts. But with the weather I had to play in, there's no way I would have gotten the scores that those guys are on, so I feel like I've done pretty well this week considering everything," he said.
The 3-wood he tossed and broke on Saturday was forgotten, at least by McIlroy, and he deflected suggestions that it was time to worry about the absence of a fifth Major on his CV.
"Look, I want to win. I want to play well. I think you guys (media) are more desperate for it to happen than I am. But I'm happy with everything.
"All I can do is keep plugging away," he said.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke drew on his innate competitive spirit to close on 70 and be second-best Irishman on two-over par 286.
Clarke's duties as European captain have taken his focus off his own game, but he battled hard to make the cut and showed flashes of that links expertise that won him the 2011 Open at Royal St George's.
He dismissed his own game fairly quickly, saying: "I played nicely," and then it was time for Ryder Cup questions.
The captain could not give any great insight, as so much golf remains to be played before the team is finalised on August 28 at the end of the Made in Denmark tournament.
"A guy goes in and wins back-to-back, then they come into consideration. There's still quite a way to go," said Clarke.
Padraig Harrington's 72 for +3, 287 was his fourth round of the week in the 70s, and placed him tied-36th.
As ever, he plays to his own tune. There was no backing off the challenge, but he also battled the worst of the weather.
"I did everything I could coming into this to get it right. I did everything I could during the week, so I have no regrets whatsoever.
"If I panicked on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and took myself out the game Thursday morning, I'd be disappointed.
"To be honest, it's been a long time since I've played a Major that I would have a regret that I didn't get my preparation right.
"I did it right this week. I can't second-guess that," said Harrington.
Graeme McDowell never got to grips with the championship, and heads for the RBC Canadian Open in Ontario this week hoping to ignite his game ahead of the US PGA the following week.
A final round 76 for 10-over par was his parting shot at Troon.
He was sure that at +4 on Friday, an early departure was on the cards, but that turned out to be the cut mark.
"I'm trying to take the positives out of the week. I wasn't supposed to be playing Saturday and Sunday, so there's no point in beating myself up.
"I'm happy with a lot of shots I'm seeing and taking some good, positive energy to next week with me," said McDowell.