PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — There was still a buzz around Royal Portrush on Saturday about Rory McIlroy’s spirited run at making the cut Friday night. McIlroy — after his 79 on Thursday, shot 65 Friday — ended up missing the cut by one shot and was emotional about it afterward.
“It was like he was winning the tournament coming down the stretch,’’ Graeme McDowell said Saturday. “He was wearing his heart on his sleeve, and he was laying it all out there coming in. And to watch him break down a little bit kind of felt like the tears in my eyes Thursday morning a little bit. I was on the first tee on Thursday wondering what the hell was wrong with me. But when I saw Rory [Friday] night, I understand it means a huge amount to us all.
“I think Rory probably won himself a lot of fans [Friday] night. To show that raw emotion, to see how much it means to him, to see how much it means to all of us being out here and to bring this great tournament to Portrush, and for him obviously to not play the way he wants to play, the way he battled coming down the stretch says a lot about him as a person.
“It’s great in sports when we see emotions, because sometimes these guys look like robots out here. We’re not robots. We hurt, and we hurt a lot sometimes. It’s a tough sport. Golf will test you to the absolute limit like no other sport. I think [McIlroy] won himself a lot of fans just for reacting in a human way.’’
Defending Open champion Francesco Molinari said, “What he did [Friday], his reaction, he showed how much class he has as a player and as a person. It would have been very easy to just show up and go through the motions, but he fought hard until the last.I’m sure down the line he’ll realize he had gained a lot from it … more than what he lost on Thursday.’’
McDowell, who like McIlroy is a native of Northern Ireland, said he felt this was going to be a difficult week for McIlroy to navigate because of the inherent pressure on him.
“This was always going to be a difficult week for him because he was the Irish shining light coming in here,’’ McDowell said. “It’s all right for me and Darren [Clarke] and Padraig [Harrington] and guys like that saying it’s great. Rory was the guy with the spotlight on him this week. He was handling all the pressure. Rory is a rock star.
“He was coming in with the pressure of a nation on his shoulders and he was always going to feel a lot more than we did. So it obviously meant a huge amount to him. It was a special effort from him.’’
McIlroy, who’s been stuck on four major championships since his 2014 PGA Championship win, must wait until the 2020 Masters to have a crack at his fifth.
“He won’t finish on four,’’ McDowell vowed. “He’ll win more. I have no doubt in my mind. Five years is a huge gap for a man of his capabilities, no doubt about it. But people grow up at different rates. There’s so much happens in a man’s life. He’s met his wife, got married. Life gets in the way sometimes.
“I feel like he’s gone through that transition in his life and he’s spent this year trying to really get himself settled and become more philosophical and really meditation and all the things that he’s working on. I feel like mentally he’s settling back down and getting back into his rhythm again.
“I’m not making excuses for the guy. Yeah, five years is a big gap for him. But he’s still a young man. He’s only 30 years old. He’s in the shape of his life. I truly believe Rory is in as good a place physically and mentally as I’ve ever seen him. I have a huge belief in him that he’ll win soon and he’ll win several. I think double digits is well within his capabilities.’’
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