McIlroy connects too late and misses Open train
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy showed his class in more ways than one when he choked back tears after missing the cut and urged Shane Lowry to go on now and claim that Claret Jug.

The world number three produced an electrifying bid to make the weekend after that disastrous opening 79, connecting powerfully with his home people down the stretch only to come up agonisingly short.

As his pride and talent kicked in on a memorable, rain-sprinkled day at Royal Portrush, he scorched to six -under for the day with two holes to play but couldn't find the precious birdie he needed over the last two holes.

A course-record equalling 65 was not enough to keep his dream of a fifth major win on home soil alive as he finished a shot outside the mark alongside the equally disappointed Amateur champion James Sugrue on two-over, one better than Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke.

If we were wondering why McIlroy crumbled so tragically on the opening day, the answer was palpable straight after the round. It simply meant so much too much,

"Part of me is very disappointed not to be here for the weekend," McIlroy said, trying to hold back tears after racing home in 31 blows. "I am a bit emotional but I am happy with how I played.

"Yesterday gave me a big mountain to climb. But I dug in there, I tried my best and I showed really good resilience."

Pausing to compose himself, McIlroy added: "It is going to hurt for a little bit but I guess the good thing about golf is I have a tournament next week in Memphis and I will turn my attention to that.

"This has been a week that I have been looking forward to for a long time. I didn't play my part but everyone in Northern Ireland who came out to watch me, definitely played theirs."

It was a performance worthy of a Claret Jug and while the disappointment hit the Holywood star like a bus, he showed his class as a sportsman when asked about his former amateur team mate Lowry's title bid.

"I can't wait to watch him over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was following the board closely and saw he got to 10 under with a few holes to go and dropped back.

"But Shane will relish these conditions. He's the home boy that's up there now, and he is going to get all of the support I got today and hopefully, they can will him on, and I'd love nothing more than to see him lift that Claret Jug."

Speaking later to the written media, he was asked to sum up his emotions and said: "There's a lot of them. 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 yesterday. And just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on.

"As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them as I was for me. I wanted to be here for the weekend. Selfishly I wanted to feel that support for two more days.

"To play in front of those crowds today 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.”

On his connection with the crowd, he confessed: "Look, it's a moment I envisaged for the last few years; it just happened two days early. I don't get back home as often as I used to, when I'm playing over in the States or wherever I'm playing in the world. It's hard to feel that support from your home people, I guess.

"To feel that over the last two days, I didn't know how people were going to react yesterday, how many people were going to be on the first tee. Is it just a lost cause. But to have that many people out there following me, supporting me, cheering my name, it meant the world to me.”

He added: "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 today.”

While Graeme McDowell would make the one-over cut on the mark after a brave 70, he will be the only home player keeping Lowry company this weekend despite McIlroy's heroic display.

Languishing in a tie for 150th after his opening day nightmare, McIlroy birdied the third and par-five seventh to get back to six-over, then turned on the turbo on the back nine.

He looked like a man making a title charge rather than a player struggling to make the cut. But he drank deep into his well talent and birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th to get back to three-over.

A bogey at the 13th might have undone most players, but McIlroy bounced straight back, fist-pumping as he rolled home a 12 footer at the 14th.

He got up and down from sand at the 15th to keep his dream alive, then made a 10 footer for a two at the 16th, Calamity, that sent the crowd wild.

Needing to play the last two holes in one-under, he parred the 17th and did well just to par the last after his 200 yard six-iron drifted left on the wind and was swallowed by the swale left of the 18th green.

"It was always going to be a very long shot to chip in from down there," he said. "I still tried my best, tried my hardest, even on that last putt to make four to finish off what was a really fun round the right way."

McDowell dug deep to shoot 70 and he believes he can still contend despite being nine shots adrift.

"This one obviously means a lot, to play the weekend here," he said. "And anything can happen. It looks like a tough forecast on Sunday and a great forecast tomorrow. So go out and shoot a low one in the morning, you never know."

Sugrue (22) was bitterly disappointed to miss the cut on two-over par, his hopes of the Silver Medal dashed when marshals could find his drive in the right rough at the 14th and he made a triple-bogey seven en route to a 73.

"I didn't think I played bad enough today to shoot two-over par," said the Mallow man, who shaved the cup with a birdie putt at the last as playing partner Clarke took two to escape from a bunker and three-putted for a seven to miss out by two shots after a 74.

"Just one bad hole knocked the wind out of my sails. I definitely didn't deserve triple on 14. Maybe bogey. I still can't believe that no one saw that ball. It was great and everything but I came here to make the cut and play well. And I did play good golf apart from one hole."

Pádraig Harrington was also a disappointed man as he had another tough day on the greens and finished alongside Clarke on three-over after a 70.

"I am very disappointed," Harrington said. "I hit a lot of good putts yesterday that missed and I lost a lot of momentum today after that. It's a bit of a shame.

"The putts that I missed yesterday I hit all good putts. That gets in on you I suppose, so disappointed to putt so badly today after playing so well. Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing."

He had encouraging words for Lowry, however, and believes the Clara man has the game and the confidence to win if he understands that in The Open, you have to roll with the punches.

"Today was a big day for him and he has obviously handled it very well," he said. "Today said a lot about him. He has a great attitude and a winning mentality. He has got belief and he has got a strong game.

"It always comes down to whether you believe you can do it and I actually believe he believes he can win. That's more than you can say for a lot of guys who could be in that situation. Shane does believe he can do it.

“It's everything. His physical game is strong so he doesn't have a problem. He is good on links golf, he is good at everything that is required for links golf but you have got to believe that it can happen and I do believe that he thinks he is in that window where he can win major championships.”