Graeme McDowell insisted that he was not “splattered on the floor” following his second successive major championship disappointment.
But after watching playing partner Adam Scott implode coming down the stretch and hand the Open to Ernie Els, the 32-year old Portrush man was left to wonder what might have been after another slow start in the final group at a major.
In hindsight, a final round 70 would have been good enough to force a play-off with Els, but McDowell made too many mistakes and while he was just three shots behind Scott with 10 holes to play, bogeys at the ninth, 10th and 11th ended his title challenge.
Tied for fifth with Luke Donaldin the end after a closing 75, five shots behind the winner, McDowell was left to wonder why he had not come charging out of the starting gate.
A bogey at the second, where he opted not to hit driver and found a fairway bunker with a three wood, handed the momentum back to Scott, who followed a bogey at the first with an imperious birdie there.
McDowell had escaped with a par save from left of the green at the opening hole but while Scott bogeyed the third, the Rathmore man could never get closer than three strokes and his challenge faltered fatally around the turn.
Forced to play away from the face of a greenside bunker at the sixth before splashing out to save bogey, he got that shot back at the eighth but took too much club at the ninth and followed that error with another at the 10th before kissing the Claret Jug goodbye at the 598-yard 11th
Safely in fairway with his drive, he came over the top and hit his second straight left into deep jungle when going for the green. Lost ball. Lost championship.
After a fruitless search for his golf ball, he was ferried back to the fateful spot in a buggy, picking thorns out of his pants.
“It’s the longest walk in golf, and believe me, the cart ride doesn’t make it feel any shorter,” he said. “It was gone for me. Bogeying nine and ten, that was pretty much the key for me.
“I made a great birdie on eight. I stormed to that ninth tee box. I executed a shot which, you know, was just the wrong golf shot in the end. I misjudged the wind by at least ten yards, make bogey there and made a decent drive on 10 which just catches the wind.
“I struggled to adapt to the conditions today. They were different today, very, very different. The wind is so heavy here. When you’ve played three days of benign weather and you swap to switch to strong cross winds, it’s tough to do.”
Going back to his second shot to the 11th, he said: “It was a case of trying to be very aggressive with my second shot and trying not to go right. And I went straight over the top of it. That’s my bad move. I spin out very hard, move my body left in attempt not to get the club flailing right, and that was just a bad pull, 15 handicapper. Card wrecker.
“Not pretty. That was a bad shot. But like I say, I hit a lot of quality golf shots today. I’m disappointed. I’m very disappointed.”
He seemed misty eyed at time as stood on a dias in the mixed zone, his girlfriend watching from afar with a concerned look.
“What did I have to do today, shoot level par?” he asked, shaking his head. “It was a tough day. It was a tough day.
“Yes, Ernie Els shot 32 to overcome us and win this, but he’s also been handed it, as well.”
McDowell was adamant that he would not be beating himself up too much over his latest major disappointment. Yet he admitted that he had some questions to answer.
“I appreciate Pebble Beach every day of my life,” he said when his 2010 US Open win was mentioned. “Knowing that my name is on the US Open trophy forever is a special feeling.
“But still, going into the last round of both the US Open and The Open Championship this year with chances to win, getting off to flat starts both days, I’ll be analysing why.
“It’s not far away, though. Taking the positives away from today, you can’t buy that type of education I’ve just had today and that education I had five weeks ago at Olympic. You just can’t buy that.
“I’ll bank those experiences and I’ll move on and just know that if I keep putting myself in contention that someday it will be my day.
“I don’t like to blame luck. It’s not about luck. But the first nine holes at Olympic and the first nine holes today, I just didn’t get the rub of the green.
“That’s key for momentum, especially when you’ve got a guy four shots ahead of you today; you’ve got to go out there and try and catch him.”
Asked about Scott, who bogeyed the last four holes to shoot 75 and lose by one to Ernie Els, he said: “What can you say? It was tough to say anything to him that was going to be of any relevance. I said he’s a great champion and I said there’s many majors ahead for him. It’s just a tough beat.
“He struggled on the greens a little bit today, as we all did. The putt on 16 was huge for him, to miss that. He hit a great drive down the middle of 17, and half of England right of that pin, and he missed it left.
“The 18th is a tough tee shot, let’s be honest. So he’s going to be extremely heartbroken and disappointed, but he’s a great, great, great player, and that’s what I tried to convey to him on the last green.
“Like I say, it felt like a futile exercise trying to say anything to him, but I’m sure he’s going to be unbelievably disappointed.
“He played solid. I really wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention to leaderboards, but I was aware that Els was making a run. We heard a roar and I assumed he’d birdied the last, as Adam was obviously bogeying 16 and making a cardinal mistake on 17. Like I say, he’ll be heartbroken right now.
“I was watching out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t say I had given up and was intent on Adam Scott was doing. I was still fighting to try to post a good finish for myself.
“I struggled with my golf swing a little bit today. But it’s hard to watch. It’s hard to watch a guy do that. When he hit that second shot [long] on 17 and the alarm bell started to ring, I thought, hold on, we’ve got a problem here.
“And like I say, he was unconvincing on the greens today. They were tough to putt. A little bit of wind coming across them. And that putt on 16 which horseshoed on him was the start of a kind of series of events that he’ll think about a lot tonight.
“It was four feet. I said to him when he hit his putt up I said, good putt. And he didn’t respond. And it was, it was kind of one of those, he had left himself a bit of a kneeknocker.
“He played good today. He really did. He hit some quality golf shots. I honestly thought when he striped it down the middle of 14, striped it down the middle of 15, this guy is going to win this and win it nicely. Little did I know.”
The return of Els to the major winners circle after a ten year hiatus is good news as far as McDowell is concerned
“It’s the return of one of golf’s great champions who’s had a very indifferent three or four years. Apart from his win at Doral, I can’t really think of many real highlights for a guy who is a classy, classy golfer. He’s a great champion.
“I mean, fourtime major champion. Great to see guys like that at the top of world golf. He’s a pretty good role model for young kids and golfers. He’s good for the game of golf. Never bad to see champions like him.
“A 4 under par on that back nine is quality golf. Pins weren’t tough, though. But you still had to stand there and hit quality shots. And he obviously did that. Fair play to him. But like I say, I felt Adam’s name was on the trophy, I really did.”
As a consolation prize, McDowell moved up to fourth in the Race to Dubai rankings with €1.51m after earning a cheque for €246,324.
He looked bitterly disappointed but denied he would have to pick himself up off the floor.
“No, I’m not splattered on the floor right now in disappointment,” he said. “I’m just a little frustrated that I got off to flat starts both times now in the last rounds of majors.
“Like I say, I’ll address some scenarios that I feel I can do better. But I’m taking the positives away. I’m not beat up at all right now. I’m disappointed, yes. But I’m fine.
“I guess my disappointment kind of seems relatively stupid in relation to the guy I’ve just seen a guy lose The Open Championship. No, I’ll take the positives away and I’ll be back.”