Rory's sights already on next Major goal
Rory McIlroy knew in his heart that the 2016 Open Championship had escaped him last Friday evening.
The four-time Major winner hoped against hope that somehow he could gouge out enough birdies on Saturday to give himself some kind of chance to make a charge, but the deceptively difficult Royal Troon links and the Scottish winds and rain on his side of the draw, particularly on Friday, did him in.
That and some errant putting which halted McIlroy's momentum over the four days as he sought to hit top gear.
Rounds of 69 and 71, for 140, left him eight shots adrift of the 36-hole pacesetter Phil Mickelson heading into the weekend.
And the way eventual champion Henrik Stenson and Mickelson played yesterday in their final rounds, there was no chance at all of McIlroy catching them.
"After the second day I was never going to win this golf tournament. Look what the guys have done. There's no chance of me getting to that score," said McIlroy after finishing four under par in a tie for fifth place.
"The goal was to finish as high up as I could this week.
"I was going out there today with the goal of trying to get world ranking points, trying to get Race to Dubai points, FedExCup points. That was my goal this weekend.
"I sort of forgot about the Claret Jug, and just tried to focus on finishing as high as I can, and felt like I did that pretty well."
The Holywood ace played alongside Argentina's Emiliano Grillo yesterday as cold winds blew from the sea across the course.
He turned in 32 with four birdies on the card, and it could have been six if a couple of short putts had not slipped by on the third and fourth holes.
As always, the back nine surrendered very little to the players, and two birdies and two bogeys was the best McIlroy could manage. He shot 67, his lowest round of the Championship, but had to settle for a four-under finish.
"There were a few mistakes in there, and if I could take back anything it would probably be the first nine holes on Saturday," he said.
"I didn't get off to the greatest of starts. But with the weather I had to play in, there's no way I would have gotten the scores that those guys are on, so I feel like I've done pretty well this week considering everything."
The 3-wood he tossed and broke on Saturday was forgotten, at least by McIlroy, and he deflected suggestions that it was time to worry about the absence of a fifth Major on his CV.
"Look, I want to win. I want to play well. I think you guys (the media) are more desperate for it to happen than I am. But I'm happy with everything. All I can do is keep plugging away," he said.
When asked about the club throwing incident, he said: "I'm one of the calmer people out there and there can be a build up and you need a release. These things happen. If I hadn't played like I did on the front nine I wouldn't have done it."
McIlroy's next Major opportunity comes at the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol in less than a fortnight's time.
"I can be positive about my game going into the last Major of the year," he said. "Obviously I've missed a few short putts this week but I'm not really putting that down to anything.
"I think I just need to do a little bit of work and maybe just be a bit more confident over them.
"Tee to green was good and I can only be positive going into Baltusrol. I'm playing well, I'm driving the ball great, I'm happy with where my game's at. If I can drive the ball like I did this week and sharpen up a few bits and pieces, I think I'll be right there."
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke drew on his innate competitive spirit to close on 70 and be second-best Irishman on two-over par 286.
Clarke's duties as European captain have taken his focus off his own game, but he battled hard to make the cut and showed flashes of that links expertise that won him the 2011 Open at Royal St George's.
He dismissed his own game fairly quickly, saying: "I played nicely," and then it was time for Ryder Cup questions.
The Ulsterman could not give any great insight, as so much golf remains to be played before the team is finalised on August 28 at the end of the Made in Denmark tournament.
"A guy goes in and wins back-to-back, then they come into consideration. There's still quite a way to go," said Clarke.
Compatriot Graeme McDowell never got to grips with the Championship, and heads for the RBC Canadian Open in Ontario this week hoping to ignite his game ahead of the US PGA the following week.
A final round 76 for 10-over par was his parting shot at Troon. He was sure that an early departure was on the cards at four over on Friday, but that turned out to be the cut mark.
"I'm trying to take the positives. I wasn't supposed to be playing Saturday and Sunday, so there's no point in beating myself up. I'm happy with a lot of shots I'm seeing and taking some good, positive energy to next week with me," said McDowell.
Padraig Harrington's 72 for a three-over 287 was his fourth round of the week in the 70s and placed him tied-36th. He plays to his own tune. There was no backing off the challenge, but he also battled the worst of the weather.
"I did everything I could coming into this to get it right. I did everything I could during the week, so I have no regrets," said Harrington.