'Hit me like a tonne of bricks': Emotional Rory McIlroy hails home support after one of his 'most fun' rounds despite missed cut at The Open
Whatever happens on Sunday afternoon at Royal Portrush, it's going to be very hard to overtake Rory McIlroy's Friday back nine as the iconic moment of the week.
More experienced scribes than I, with a buckle-full of Open Championships under their belt, have ranked the reception given to Rory McIlroy on the 18th as one of the greatest ever heard.
Loud, proud and thrilled to the core.
Every single person who lined that back nine to see McIlroy's five birdies to come within a whisker of making it through to the weekend will remember it forever.
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Sport at its glorious, poignant best.
And it wasn't lost on the man himself.
"I will look back on that day with nothing but fond memories and positivity," said an emotional McIlroy.
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"I definitely feel, over the last week has been a real sort of, it's been an eye-opener for me. Sometimes you're so far away and you forget about all the people that are cheering you on back home. And then you come and play in front of them, it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks today.
"As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, you know, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them as I was for me. I wanted to be here for the weekend.
"Selfishly I wanted to feel that support for two more days."
The raw emotion will take a while to get over, for McIlroy and for his legions of supporters.
Equalling the course record 65 on the newly-adapted Dunluce Links, it was a special round at a special time.
When he dropped a birdie at the notorious 16th hole, Calamity Corner, every single person believed.
"Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played," continued Rory, speaking with immense maturity.
"It's strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut.
"To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it's going to be a tough one to get over.
"I'm proud of how I handled myself today coming back after what was a very challenging day yesterday. And just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on."
McIlroy admitted that he would 'rue' his Thursday finish, that included a sloppy four-putt on that same 16th and a triple bogey seven on the last.
At eight over on Thursday night, his Open bid looked over. When he missed that tiny putt on Calamity, the raw emotion, disappointment and frustration, it seemed, had made even the man himself forget what true greatness he was capable of on Friday afternoon.
"I didn't know how people were going to react on Thursday, how many people were going to be on the first tee (on Friday)," he said.
"Is it just a lost cause? But to have that many people out there following me, supporting me, cheering my name, it meant the world to me.
"I showed the real Rory McIlroy and the golf that I can play. I'm glad, to some degree, I gave them something to cheer about, at least."
Boy did they do that. Perhaps only Offaly's Shane Lowry, should he parade up the 18th in the lead on Sunday afternoon, could command such a reception by the stadium-like grandstands.
"It's a moment I envisaged for the last few years," McIlroy said of his welcome to the final green.
"It just happened two days early. I don't get back home as often as I used to, when I'm playing over in the States or wherever I'm playing in the world. It's hard to feel that support from your home people, I guess."
His teary interview live on Sky Sports just minutes later would only prove to cement his place in the hearts of golf fans, like Andy Wimbledon's emotional interview after losing his first Wimbledon final.
Murray got the chance to win in SW14 and with The Open to return to Portrush in around a decade's time, the local fans will hope Rory takes his opportunity for redemption.
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