Why Rory McIlroy’s Open Disappointment Will Only Make Him Stronger
Article by Will Trinkwon
Rory McIlroy turned up at Royal Portrush with the highest of hopes. His form was good – he’d put up a good showing at the US Open and then the Scottish Open the week before – he looked confident in his press conference. Stepping onto the first tee on Thursday he was greeted by a hurricane of applause from a home crowd. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Fast forward 20 minutes, however, and the Northern Irishman was already four over par, having opened with a terrifying quadruple bogey eight. A brief rally around the turn and things looking up, but then another nightmare hole in the form of a triple bogey on 18, pushed him back to eight over par. For 16 holes on Friday, McIlroy looked like he might bounce back. A coolly slotted birdie on 16 took him to five under on the round, two over for the tournament and within one of the cutline. When McIlroy made pars at 17 and 18 he was crestfallen; the hometown favourite would miss the weekend. But McIlroy is nothing if not a fighter. And, paradoxical though it may seem, I believe this disappointment may be the making of him.
On the face of it, this may sound ridiculous. Although McIlroy sought to play down the significance of the event in his pre-tournament interviews, a home Open at Royal Portrush was always going to be a huge deal. McIlroy knew the course backwards – he famously shot a 61 here as a 16-year-old (!) amateur – and grew up just a couple of miles down the road in Holywood. This was also perhaps the only time in his prime that he’ll get the chance to play an Open on home soil, neigh, in his own backyard. To have squandered such an opportunity, to not even have squeaked past the cut, was always going to sting. It’s safe to say that the Northern Irishman will be wearing these scars for some time.
But big as this disappointment will be, McIlroy can take solace from his performance. Yes, his Thursday 79 was choky – he let his nerves get the better of him and it showed. But his play in a challenging second round showcased a mettle that might just be the Northern Irishman’s making. With his back to the ropes, McIlroy came out swinging and got within a hair’s breadth of making the cut. Although he couldn’t find that last birdie when it really mattered, the fact that he was able to summon his best golf and come so close must salve the pain of the missed cut a little. Perhaps immediately, the closeness of the miss will add to his feelings of disappointment, but longer term, when he looks back on what could have been, the golfer will surely be able to draw positives from how close he came.
If there’s any golfer who has the mental strength to turn this disappointment into fuel for the future, its McIlroy. The Northern Irishman gets a lot of stick about his supposed deficit of mental toughness, but what are his critics talking about? Have they forgotten how he fought back from his infamous collapse at the Masters in 2011? While it’s true that McIlroy still looks haunted around Augusta, it certainly didn’t derail his bid for the US Open, which he won in the same year in imperious fashion. McIlroy will have to wait nine months until his next shot at a major title, but the spillover from this disappointment will not damage it. Far from it. Based on McIlroy’s past form in bouncing back from such let-downs, it’s when he’s down and out that the golfer’s most dangerous.
McIlroy’s next competition is the inaugural World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and the FedEx Cup play-offs after that. Despite his Open disappointment, the golfer is currently sitting third in the rankings and will be in with a real chance of hoisting the trophy and the several million-dollar winner’s prize in the Tour Championship – defended by Tiger Woods – in September. It would be folly to scratch McIlroy from the runnings based on his less-than-ideal performance at Portrush.
McIlroy’s Friday 65 was a great round and a timely reminder that the golfer is, excepting Thursday’s 79, a form horse. Since winning at Bay Hill in March, McIlroy’s play has been imperious, and has demonstrated a consistency not often seen in a player who is famous for his changeable form. In the Canadian Open, he closed with a sparkling 61, dominating the event by seven shots and sparking rumours of a similar romp at the US Open. It wasn’t to be. But McIlroy’s tied 9th finish was emblematic of the solid performances he been clocking this year even when he hasn’t quite got over the line. In fact, McIlroy leads the PGA Tour’s Most Top 10s list. Out of the 14 events he has played, he has come in the top 10 a whopping 11 times, including two wins and a runner up. McIlroy hasn’t displayed this kind of form since he polished off the PGA Championship, the Open and a clutch of other high-profile tournaments in 2014.
McIlroy’s early eviction from this year’s Open is inevitably going to be hurt. As McIlroy admitted in his post first round press interviews, the pressure of a home crowd and an Open, unlikely to be repeated, on home turf, unnerved him on the 1st round and it was, devastatingly, a case of too little and too late in his second. But McIlroy’s Portrush disappointment does not erase what has otherwise been a very fine year of golf, while, if his past record is anything to go by, it may even spur him to greater feats still. McIlroy has not yet the pedigree of his mentor and rival Tiger, but like the cat of the same name, I predict, he will prove more dangerous now that he is wounded.
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