Wednesday 21 August 2019

Adam McKendry: 'In that moment, a bogey became a double-bogey and McIlroy had signed his death knell'

An exasperated Rory McIlroy reacts after a double-bogie on the 16th. Photo: David Davies/PA
An exasperated Rory McIlroy reacts after a double-bogie on the 16th. Photo: David Davies/PA

Adam McKendry

Under any other circumstances, we could have been talking about this round as one of the best produced not just by Rory McIlroy, but in Open history.

He was dead and buried, with no right whatsoever to make it to the weekend at Royal Portrush. When he hit off at 3.10pm from the first tee, he was already seen as something of an afterthought. It was a glorified exhibition round, a final hurrah in an Open on home soil.

And yet somehow - somehow - it nearly ended up being one of the greatest stories The Open has ever seen.

The home town boy, rallying from the jaws of despair to make the cut on the mark with the best round of the week.

From desolation to delight. From agony to ecstasy. From hopelessness to supremacy. The script had been written, the actors cast and the curtain raised on opening night to a packed theatre.

And in one cruel twist of fate, there was a rewrite, with McIlroy's starring role in the second act taken out.

The cliff-face before him proved to be one handhold too high to scale. When he looks back, he will reflect on the herculean effort it required simply to muscle his way as close as he did to acquiring a berth among the Saturday tee-times, and in the end it still wasn't enough.

Indeed, his final round 65, six-under par, is tied for best of the week alongside Kevin Streelman and Xander Schauffele. He carded seven birdies and dropped just the one shot, at the 13th, but it would have needed to be the best on its own to qualify him for round three.

In many ways, while those things will please him, it only just drives the dagger in a little deeper, each birdie he made an extra notch in the blade plunged into his heart.

You saw it on the final green, the 30-year-old Holywood man clearly overwhelmed by emotion as he doffed his cap and waved to the grandstands packed to capacity that had willed him on every step of the way, and felt the push of that blade just as much as he did.

Were fans able to will the ball into the hole by just the power of their belief and support then McIlroy need not have hit the chip, it would have rolled into the hole by itself.

This is a round that should have been celebrated too, those wild adulations on the 18th deserving of a week-best round and a triumphant stride into the weekend with the Claret Jug in sight, not someone missing the cut and heading home empty-handed.

His birdies at the third and seventh had set the tone, even if many didn't know it yet, the World No.3 establishing himself on the course before really letting loose.

After the turn he sparked. A good putt fell at the 10th, a booming drive at 11 set up a flicked wedge for another birdie, hitting the green in two allowed for another birdie at 12 and then a beautifully crafted putt brought another at 14.

In between that came a dropped shot at the 13th, which slowed but did not halt the momentum, and in the end that may be just as crucial as other missed opportunities. But in the grand scheme of things you can sum up the disparity between McIlroy's two rounds in one word.

Calamity.

How cruel it is that the 16th hole, which sparked the true hope that he may just pull it off, proved to be the difference between being there for the weekend and packing his bags for the journey home.

Yesterday, it provided him with the birdie that well and truly signalled that something miraculous was on the cards. A phenomenal shot over the gaping Calamity chasm rolling up to eight feet, and McIlroy sinking it with a fist pump.

But only 24 hours before he had done all the damage that would end up being the gap between making the cut and not.

In a moment of carelessness, a moment of frustration, he stepped up and hit a putt that in any tournament, no less a Major, needed attention. It lipped the hole and stayed out.

In that moment, a bogey became a double-bogey and, although we didn't know it then, McIlroy had signed his death knell on making the weekend at The Open.

There are other shots that you can look back on and question - his first eight the prime example - but those will fall by the wayside. They'll be analysed in due course, but right now the sting of missing a putt that 99 times out of 100 he could make with his eyes shut and his arms tied behind his back will be the one that burns deep into his memory.

Those six inches might as well have been a million miles for all it matters in the grand scheme of things. The putt missed, and McIlroy missed the cut by one agonising stroke.

Golf is a game of inches, as they say, but so rarely are they counted in such literal terms, especially when the stage was Portrush and the man in question McIlroy.

It's just a crying shame that it had to happen now.

Belfast Telegraph

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