ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Deep along the back nine of the British Open on Sunday, across the time that word of Cameron Smith’s birdie streak began to seep through the gallery, the spectators began to look unsure.
That they had come to the Old Course to revel alongside Rory McIlroy with all manner of commotion, and, for some time, revel they did: pep talks and chants, squeals and roars, even, sometimes, when he missed a putt.
Then they became a chorus of shellshocked eulogists, crafting a slow-in-the-making mournful soundtrack for one in all golf’s more wrenching runs.
Alongside the tee box on the Road Hole, the par-4 seventeenth, a girl clenched her teeth before McIlroy swung.
“Come on, Rory!” a person screamed because the ball gained altitude.
“You may do it, Rory!” one other hollered.
“Birdie, eagle!” a 3rd man really helpful.
It was not that McIlroy, who finished eighth or higher in any respect 4 majors in 2022, played a round rife with disaster — his Sunday scorecard showed a two-under-par 70 and no bogeys. But his outing was marked by one squandered opportunity after the subsequent, putts “where I couldn’t just trust myself to start out it inside the opening,” and a suspended ability to maintain pace.
On Saturday, when he had assembled a masterful 66 to take a share of the lead into the ultimate round, he had sometimes appeared more like a sorcerer than a player, with a stirring eagle from the sand on No. 10 and five birdies. On Sunday, he recorded birdies only twice, his putter not the weapon it was a day earlier.
“I felt like I didn’t do much improper today, but I didn’t do much right either,” McIlroy said after he finished third within the Open, behind Smith and Cameron Young. “It’s just one in all those days where I played a extremely controlled round of golf. I did what I felt like I needed to only aside from capitalizing on the simpler holes across the turn, 9, 12, 14. If I had made the birdies there from good positions, it probably would have been a distinct story.”
Indeed, all else on this tournament staying the identical, he would have won.
There have been few figures within the 156-man field of the one hundred and fiftieth Open who had stirred the St. Andrews crowd quite like McIlroy, a son of Northern Ireland who had won the Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014. McIlroy, who missed the 2015 tournament at St. Andrews due to an injury, had fared well on the Old Course previously, placing third within the 2010 Open.
Still, he arrived this time mired in a very elite brand of misery, with top-10 finishes — but not a single victory — in 16 of the 29 major tournaments by which he competed after winning at Royal Liverpool. He sensed that he was playing his best golf in a while, and thought that, perhaps, he could solve one in all golf’s most beguiling and difficult courses.
So at 2:50 p.m. local time on Sunday, when he and Viktor Hovland began Game No. 42 of the day, the working assumption for many of individuals around St. Andrews was that one in all them would hoist the freshly engraved claret jug. The notion that they might be the one men within the tournament’s top ranks to attain 70 or worse on Sunday seemed distant, though the group looked as if it would treat Hovland as more of an afterthought than a contender.
However the arithmetic was steering McIlroy straight toward a 70 after nine holes.
He didn’t worsen after that. He didn’t recuperate, either, the Old Course’s pins making something of a ritual of eluding his putts.
It was inconceivable, after all, for Hovland’s troubles, which amassed to a 74 for Sunday, to flee McIlroy’s notice. He could gather only a lot, though, concerning the swelling threat within the pairing just ahead, where Young, playing alongside Smith, was also on the march, gaining seven shots toward his eventual runner-up finish. Smith was much more glimmering, picking up eight strokes through the final round, six of them on the back nine.
“I used to be just doing my very own thing,” McIlroy said. “It was working well until I needed to reply to what Cam was doing on the market. Coming down on 14, I knew that at that time Cam had birdied to go to 19 and I used to be at 18, so I knew that I needed to reply. I just couldn’t find the shots or the putts to do this.”
But to McIlroy’s mind, it still ranked amongst his best showings in majors lately, at the same time as he confessed to having categorized this 12 months’s Open as “one which I feel like I let slip away.”
“I’ve been close and I keep knocking on the door,” said McIlroy, whose next tournament is anticipated to be one in Memphis in mid-August. “I can’t get too down on myself since the game is there. It’s only a matter of staying patient.”
His drought notwithstanding, there could also be no player in skilled golf today thought to have a lot unrealized promise. Gary Player, who won three Opens, recently called McIlroy “essentially the most talented golfer on this planet today,” and Smith spent a part of his post-round news conference hailing McIlroy as “probably essentially the most consistent player out here.”
On Sunday, though, consistency proved precisely the problem.
And people crowds?
“They were quite a bit louder to start with in comparison with the top,” Hovland said, “that’s needless to say.”