Rory McIlroy rages against the dying of the light at Portrush
Home favourite takes it all in as he falls one stroke short of the cut despite a defiant 65
Rory McIlroy slautes the crowd after his second round 65 at Portrush. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA
The standing ovation from the grandstand that encircles the 18th green was partially in recognition of Rory McIlroy’s standing in the Irish sporting community, but primarily for the chutzpah he demonstrated in pursuing an unlikely redemption following Thursday’s horrors.
Thirteen shots adrift of overnight leader JB Holmes, eight off the eventual cut-line, McIlroy’s six under, 65 in the worst of Friday’s weather was a sterling effort, coming up a shot shy of making the weekend at Royal Portrush.
The margin will invariably inspire regrets or shine a light where the tiny shortfall might have been made up; he didn’t birdie the par five second and from 94-yards on the 15th and with a wedge in his hand, clouted the ball into the back bunker.
Anyone can look for something when a golfer hits the ball 65 times. To focus on glitches though would be to unfairly detract from what was a superb round of golf. Thursday’s 79 would have hurt like hell, his pride dented, but in time he will be proud of the response and it might provide a salve of sorts for his obvious disappointment.
It wasn’t a cavalry charge from the get-go, turning in two under with birdies on the third and eighth, still five shots off the line in the sand. He accumulated his birdies in clusters on the way home, three in succession from the 10th before giving one back at the 13th when he caught a greenside trap at the par three resulting in a bogey.
He clawed shots on the 14th and 16th and had a chance for another on the penultimate green but his putt slipped left. He chose an iron off the 18th tee, the trade adding several degrees of difficulty to his approach. In chasing a tiger line to the pin, his second deviated a little in flight, careered left on landing, and scampered down the bank into a grassy swale, leaving him effectively stymied in pursuit of the birdie he required.
He tried to unscramble his emotions afterwards. “There are a lot of them; I’m disappointed not to be here for the weekend, unbelievably proud of how I handled myself today coming back after what was a very challenging day (on Thursday) and just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and were willing me on.
“As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, you know, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them as I was for me. Selfishly I wanted to feel that support for two more days.
“But today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I’ve ever played. It’s strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut. To play in front of those crowds and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it’s going to be a tough one to get over. I’ll probably rue the finish yesterday, dropping five shots on the last three holes. But I felt like I gave a good account of myself today and I can leave here with my head held high.”
He explained that spending the majority of his time playing in America he is someway removed from the enjoying the support of a home crowd. “I definitely feel the last week has been a real sort of, it’s been an eye-opener for me.
“Sometimes you’re so far away and you forget about all the people that are cheering you on back home. And then you come and play in front of them, it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks.”