ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Rory McIlroy let himself dream. He could not assist it.
The large yellow scoreboard that stood tales above St. Andrews’ ultimate gap stared again at him every time he seemed out the window of his resort room. He imagined his identify within the black, block letters standing atop the checklist, the identical picture he certainly considered numerous instances as a child.
The dream got here true a day early. His identify occupied the highest spot Saturday evening, after a 66 that put him in a tie for The Open’s lead with Viktor Hovland. McIlroy spoke that night about his “cocoon,” the place the place he might divorce his course of from the strain. However every time he peered out his hotel-room window, he allowed himself to think about what might have been an important victory of his profession.
“You have to let your self dream,” McIlroy mentioned. “You have to let your self give it some thought and what it might be like, however as soon as I used to be on the golf course it was simply the duty at hand and attempting to play the perfect golf I probably might.”
Solely Hovland was McIlroy’s equal over the primary 54 holes of The a hundred and fiftieth Open. They each shot 16-under 200, together with matching 66s in Saturday’s second-to-last group to earn Sunday’s final tee time. They had been 4 away from the gamers in third place, Cameron Smith and Cameron Younger. McIlroy wasn’t the one one dreaming of him successful within the Dwelling of Golf. A win by Nice Britain’s nice hope within the recreation’s non secular heart made an excessive amount of sense.
It had been 12 years since he final performed an Open on the Previous Course, and eight years since his final main win. The best participant of his era, and one of many best Europeans of all time, McIlroy had endured shut calls in majors earlier this yr, ending within the high 10 in every of the primary three. Then on Friday, as he was beginning his second spherical, he crossed paths with Tiger Woods as Woods’ profession at St. Andrews seemingly got here to an in depth. Woods was touched by McIlroy tipping his cap in respect as they walked previous one another. Woods’ final Open at St. Andrews, the place he gained twice, might have concluded with the primary win at St. Andrews for the perfect participant since Woods.
McIlroy was attempting to affix Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Europe’s two better of the fashionable period, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros, by successful on the Previous Course, a setting that carries further significance. A win would have tied Ballesteros with 5 main triumphs and left him one wanting Faldo’s file for many majors by a European participant since World Struggle I. McIlroy is the participant in at this time’s recreation who provides essentially the most consideration to context. His legacy is his precedence at this level in his profession, and solely a victory at Augusta Nationwide would do extra for it. Like Jordan Spieth seven years earlier, the sentimental favourite did not win at St. Andrews, nonetheless.
McIlroy was bogey-free Sunday however made simply two birdies. His 70 left him in third place, two strokes behind winner Cameron Smith. Smith birdied the primary 5 holes of the again 9 and closed with 30 en path to a Sunday 64. TOUR rookie Cameron Younger, who performed with Smith within the second-to-last group, shot 65 to complete second. McIlroy led many of the day however fell behind after Smith birdied 14. McIlroy might solely muster pars on the ultimate holes, nonetheless.
“I knew that I wanted to reply,” McIlroy mentioned. “I simply could not discover the photographs or the putts to try this.”
It was a day that was comparatively stress-free. He drove it nicely and did not make a bogey, but additionally could not hit his method photographs shut sufficient or reap the benefits of the Previous Course’s drivable par-4s.
That is the primary time in his profession that McIlroy has completed within the high 10 in all 4 majors. He is third on the planet rating and fifth within the FedExCup with two wins this season. He spoke this week in regards to the belief he has in his recreation, and the liberty it has produced. He reunited with longtime swing coach Michael Bannon and gained final month’s RBC Canadian Open whereas his caddy, Harry Diamond, was at house together with his spouse and new child baby. It required him to make extra selections on the course and rely much less on his long-time looper.
“I am in additional management of my swing and my recreation,” he mentioned. He left final month’s US Open saying he was “nearer than I have been shortly.”
However on Sunday, McIlroy struggled to belief his reads on St. Andrews’ gradual greens and watched a number of birdie putts slide by the opening. Whereas Smith was within the midst of his birdie streak, McIlroy could not capitalize on two of St. Andrews’ drivable par-4s, Nos. 9 and 12, and parred the par-5 14th when a birdie would have pulled him even with Smith. McIlroy missed lengthy birdie putts on 15 and 16, as nicely, and a 20-footer on the troublesome seventeenth after Smith had two-putted from behind the Street Bunker. Smith’s birdie on the ultimate gap meant McIlroy wanted to make eagle on 18. It was over when his second shot ran previous the opening.
“There have been a number of putts at this time the place I could not simply belief myself to begin it inside the opening,” he mentioned. “I used to be at all times beginning it on the sting or simply outdoors considering it was going to maneuver. Extra instances than not, they only kind of stayed there.”
McIlroy centered on the positives in his post-round press convention and tried to put the end in its correct perspective – “It is not life or dying,” he mentioned – however the scene after he stepped away from the microphone painted a fuller image. A golf cart waited to whisk McIlroy to the locker room. He sat down subsequent to his spouse, Erica, and rested his head face-down on her shoulder. He had no extra vitality to expend. The struggle was over.
The Previous Course is a romantic setting for these with a deep connection to the sport. A spherical on the historic grounds elicits a wide range of feelings.
Together with heartbreak.