McIlroy's performance ends in disappointment at Fota
Rory McIlroy fought tooth and nail for the chance to perform for two more days in front of massive galleries at Fota Island this weekend.
That he came up one tantalising stroke short of achieving that ambition is unfortunate not only for the Holywood native but tens of thousands of spectators denied the opportunity to witness at first hand his spine-tingling array of golf shots.
Especially so given the subtle change evident in the relationship between McIlroy and the home crowd at Fota Island following Wednesday's announcement that he'd represent Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
McIlroy mixed the sensational with the slipshod yesterday in an astonishing roller coaster 69 which featured an eagle three at 10 and no fewer than six beautiful birdies but was blighted by four bogeys and a numbing double-bogey seven at the fourth.
After Thursday's jaded 74, he missed the cut by the narrowest margin on one-over par. However, for the first time in eight appearances, McIlroy appeared to truly relish playing in front of a home crowd and and his disappointment was plain when his novelty race at Fota was run.
"It is disappointing personally not to be able to play in front of those crowds this weekend but more so for them a little bit," he sighed.
"Not to be here over the weekend for a second year on the bounce at the Irish Open isn't what I want to do when I come back home to play.
"I look back at every Open and say I enjoyed it but can I say I played to my potential in any of those I've played? Definitely not, not even close," McIlroy added emphatically.
"I'd love to be able to produce my best when I come back home and it hasn't been this year or last year or the previous years but hopefully I'll start to in the future."
Asked if it had anything to do with the demands and expectations place on him in Ireland, McIlroy revealed: "I don't think it's anything to do with that. This definitely is the first Irish Open where I've felt the least pressure.
"I went out there and really enjoyed it and played and fought for every shot and smiled," added the Ulsterman.
No question, the fight he showed in the face of adversity yesterday and in recent months contrasts sharply with the pout and slumped shoulders which appeared too readily appear in the past.
Even after his ball clattered off a tree bough and into oblivion on the par five fourth yesterday, yielding a seven which stirred memories of his misfortune at the 10th on Masters Sunday in 2011, this McIlroy was not for folding.
"I don't usually moan about luck or try to blame anything but that was terribly unlucky," said McIlroy.
"It could have gone anywhere, just clip a leaf and still go down the fairway or be in the right rough.
"It must have hit something pretty hard and dropped straight down. I couldn't do anything with it apart from go back and play three off the tee."
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell had a fine 66 in round two to move to eight under par, leaving him alongside 2009 runner-up Robert Rock and France's Romain Wattel, two behind Finland's Mikko Ilonen.
The 34-year-old has never recorded a top-10 finish in this event.
"There's always a first time for everything," McDowell joked. "I've been unhappy with my game now for a few months, really getting frustrated with myself in general and trying to be a little too perfect. I tried to loosen myself up a little bit and try to enjoy my golf a little bit. I'm surprised and excited to be in contention.
"Normally there's some pressure and expectation in the Irish Open. I think maybe coming off the US Open last week, with as much pressure and frustration and expectation as you feel there, perhaps that's why I'm dealing with it a little bit better because it nearly feels like the proverbial walk in the park by comparison.
"This is a fun game to play. We are very lucky to play it for a living but last week bordered on the unenjoyable because the course was so frustratingly difficult.
"There's nothing quite like it when a crowd is pulling for you and it's a fun experience."
Michael Hoey is on three under with Darren Clarke a shot further back.