The galleries had flocked to the Fife coast to witness Rory McIlroy’s second British Open title, eight years after his first, but instead saw the Northern Irishman’s major drought prolonged as Cameron Smith ripped up the script.
Martyn Herman, at St Andrews – The galleries had flocked to the Fife coast to witness Rory McIlroy’s second British Open title, eight years after his first, but instead saw the Northern Irishman’s major drought prolonged as Cameron Smith ripped up the script.
By the time McIlroy reached the 18th green he looked totally spent and the crowd deflated after his latest near-miss.
McIlroy has won four majors, the last coming at the PGA Championship in 2014, weeks after British fans had roared him to the open title at Hoylake.
So any suggestion the 33-year-old former world number one cannot get the job done would be churlish in the extreme.
But Sunday felt like a massive opportunity squandered as a two-under 70 closing round proved futile for McIlroy, who had begun the day four clear with Norway’s Viktor Hovland, to hold off Smith who carded a sensational eight-under 64.
In the end McIlroy had to settle for third place behind American Cameron Young as his putter went cold.
“Disappointed obviously, I felt like I didn’t do much wrong today, but I didn’t do much right either,” a frank McIlroy told reporters. “I played a really controlled round of golf.
“I did what I felt like I needed to just apart from capitalising 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. Twenty-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.
“The fans were unbelievably supportive, wish I could have given them a little more to cheer about.”
Massive crowds lined the first fairway as McIlroy began his final round at just before 3pm local time, chants of “Rory Rory” blaring across the parched Old Course.
After opening with four pars McIlroy seemed in control and the decibel level went up when he birdied the par-five fifth following a superb second shot into the green.
Playing partner Hovland was fading but McIlroy’s only other birdie arrived on the 10th and by that time the mullet-haired Smith, playing ahead, was unstoppable.
When McIlroy failed to birdie the par-five 14, leaving Smith clear by a shot the old Claret Jug was slipping from his grasp.
It has been a familiar tale for McIlroy since he held off Phil Mickelson to win the PGA at Valhalla in 2014.
Since then he has been the nearly man. In eight Masters appearances since he has six top-10s and finished runner-up this year. He has had four consecutive US Open top-10s and since winning the British Open has had four top-five finishes.
“It’s not life or death,” McIlroy said. “I’ll have other chances to win the Open Championship and other chances to win majors. It’s one that I feel like I let slip away, but there will be other opportunities.
“So it’s just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open.”