PORTRUSH: Rory McIlroy was clearly moved by the support he received from the gallery at Royal Portrush and was “unbelievably proud” after fighting back to come within a shot of making the halfway cut at the British Open on Friday.
It was always going to be tough after his opening 79 for McIlroy, but he rode a wave of emotion that swept across the links, and almost did enough to advance to the weekend with a six-under-par 65 that matched the best round of the tournament.
“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,” he said after his two-over 144 score.
“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.
“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.”
McIlroy arrived at the tournament, which is being held in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, seemingly conflicted about how to approach the championship, whether to embrace the occasion or to treat it as just another major.
The galleries provided an easy answer.
“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,” he said.
“I wanted to be here for the weekend. 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.
“I don’t get back home as often as I used to (and) it’s hard to feel that support from your home people, I guess, but to have that many people out there following me, supporting me, cheering my name, it meant the world to me.”
At 30, McIlroy is young enough to have one more good chance to win the tournament on home soil, with the R&A expected to bring the event back to Portrush in the next decade or so.
“I wasn’t coming here to try and produce any sort of symbolism or anything like that, but to see everyone out there sort of cheering for the same thing was pretty special,” he said.
“I wish the ending for me would have been written a little bit differently but it’s been an awesome experience and I can’t wait to come back here in a few years and play another Open.
“I’m so proud of everyone involved in this tournament, bringing it to Northern Ireland.”