Rory's dream story flames out

Augusta awaits in nine months

Open – McIlroy flames out

(Stuart Franklin/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

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St. Andrews, Scotland. Going into Sunday’s final round the storyline looked like a Hollywood script coming to fruition — Rory McIlroy finally ending his nearly eight-year long non-major streak and doing so magnificently at the home of golf — St. Andrews at the 150th anniversary of The Open Championship.

The four-time major winner shared the 54-hole lead with Viktor Hovland and the crowds at the iconic Old Course were in unison — Rory’s story would end triumphantly. Then things went off script. McIlroy could not make any crucial putts throughout the round and ultimately finishing in third. The planned post round celebration with champagne flow remaining on ice for another time. The end result — leaving St. Andrews wondering what he must do to secure his fifth major championship.

Open – McIlroy flames out

In a tale that seems to have no end — McIlroy remains winless in major championships since taking his second PGA Championship back in August, 2014. The promise of greatness still remains for the 33-year-old but the pain from leaving Scotland without possession again of the Claret Jug is one that will sting. How long it takes him to move on will be something to observe. All he can do now is put the experience in his rear-view mirror and wait for the next major championship– the ’23 Masters nine months away.

At his press conference following the round McIlroy’s candor was straightforward.

“Disappointed obviously. Yeah, I felt like I didn’t do much wrong today, but I didn’t do much right either. It’s just one of those days where I played a really controlled round of golf. I did what I felt like I needed to just apart from capitalizing on the easier holes — around the turn, 9, 12, 14. 

“If I had made the birdies there from good positions, it probably would have been a different story. But, look, I got beaten by a better player this week. 20-under par for four rounds of golf around here is really, really impressive playing, especially to go out and shoot 64 today to get it done.”

Open – McIlroy flames out

For whatever reason — “getting it done” has been the missing ingredient for McIlroy to elevate his stature in professional golf. And while he stated he would be able to move on from the loss — the strength of his voice on that point seemed a bit less so.

“I’ll be okay. It’s not — at the end of the day, it’s not life or death. I’ll have other chances to win the Open Championship and other chances to win majors,” said McIlroy. “It’s one that I feel like I let slip away, but there will be other opportunities”

Major moments define legacies. Having them “slip away” can indeed leave scar tissue – especially when the next situation arises. How many other opportunities will involve him is a matter of speculation. Other golf greats — such as Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros were thought to have future major wins at 34 and 31 years of age respectively. In neither case did that happen. 

McIlroy is fully aware of making the most of any moment — and the one that passed him by at St. Andrews clearly meant a great deal in having his name added to the roster of greats such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods who have won on the Old Course.

Open – McIlroy flames out

McIlroy’s positive spin was praiseworthy for his belief in himself.

“It’s just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open. The putter just went a little cold today compared to the last three days. But I just have to dust myself off and come again and keep working hard and keep believing,” said McIlroy.

In reality the putter was stone cold ineffective. McIlroy two-putted each green and when Cameron Smith was holing each and every key putt — the output from Rory was simply ineffective.

As the round moved into the final nine holes it was Smith who kept moving upwards — courtesy of five consecutive birdies commencing at the 10th. McIlroy in the final grouping could see the momentum shift and needed to reply in kind with birdies of his own.

None came.

“I needed to respond to what Cam was doing out there. Coming down on 14, I knew that at that point Cam had birdied to go to 19 and I was at 18, so I knew that I needed to respond. I just couldn’t find the shots or the putts to do that.”

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Open – McIlroy flames out

McIlroy will now take three weeks of. His next event comes in Memphis with the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

“I’ve got three weeks off. I’m not going to play again until the first playoff event in Memphis.

I’ve got a bit of time to rest and recover and try to take the positives, learn from the negatives, and move on.

“I’m playing well. Again, it’s one of the best seasons I’ve had in a long time. I want to finish the season off well. I want to finish the season off right. There’s still some golf to play. Major season is over unfortunately, but I still feel like there’s a little bit to play for.”

McIlroy’s mindset going forward will be front and center. Can he place St. Andrews in his rear-view mirror and can his overall play surpass what he is doing now?

“I’ve been close and I keep knocking on the door. I can’t get too down on myself because the game is there. It’s just a matter of staying patient,” said McIlroy.

Difficult defeats can be a catalyst for even greater achievements. Patience and forgetting the disappointments will be a central emphasis for Rory. His upfront nature provides a meaningful connection to golf fans globally. What you see with McIlroy is what you get. That genuine connection rings true.

The ’23 major championship season will once again start with the playing of the Masters at its permanent home Augusta National Golf Club. A win in Georgia could put the pain of St. Andrews forever behind him as he would become just the sixth member of golf’s most elite clubs — players who have won the career Grand Slam.

Open - McIlroy flames out
Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Open – McIlroy flames out

McIlroy’s journey is an ongoing one and he leaves St. Andrews with some crucial thoughts that he believes will assist him going forward.

“I did a really good job this week of sort of really trying to control what I could control. Look, I certainly appreciated the support, and it was incredible to be cheered along all 72 holes, but I didn’t let that put me under any more pressure,” said McIlroy.

“I’m trying to do it for me at the end of the day. Yes, it’s great to get the support, but the happiest person in the world if I won that Claret Jug would have been me.”

Rory’s ongoing career completed a key chapter at St. Andrews circa 2022. The test now is how to incorporate the lessons learned and seizing the next moment when it arrives.

Should he once again be at the forefront in a critical moment will the demons flare up again or will he finally push through the barrier and achieve even greater heights.

Plenty of unanswered questions.

That future chapter in the story lies ahead. It is one Rory wants to have a far different ending.

Augusta cannot come soon enough.

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