Open: McIlroy rues a chance lost, but remains philosophical on winning more majors
Rory McIlroy had to grit his teeth and accept that the 146th Open Championship represented "a lost opportunity" to claim his fifth Major.
"It's a lost opportunity. I said that yesterday. I felt like I had a chance to get in a few shots better than I did. And I didn't.
"And that would have put me a bit closer to the lead going out today, and maybe I would have been able to put a bit of pressure on the guys in front of me.
"But that's the way it goes. And just got to wait a couple of weeks and try again at Quail Hollow," said McIlroy, referring to the US PGA championship which will take place at one of his favourite courses from August 10-13.
Standing on the interview podium as he spoke to the media after his 67 for five-under par 275 and tied-4th, McIlroy had reason to regret the opening-day performance on the front nine where he was five-over par after just six holes.
Then came his fightback on the back nine on Thursday afternoon, followed by a battling performance on Friday, before a stuttering display on Saturday stalled his momentum.
Sunday evolved into a game of 'keep a birdie off your card' for eight holes before he finally dropped a 12-foot putt for a three on the ninth.
He made just one more birdie - a three on the 11th, before a lost ball off the tee at the par-5 15th led to a bogey.
Credit to him, McIlroy bounced back in style to eagle the long 17th. He tried hard to make a birdie on the 18th, but had to settle for par after this third shot landed in a greenside bunker.
Ultimately, the crowd hero knew his game was not quite good enough for a win this time, but his heart and fighting spirit never sagged, despite the roller-coaster mixture of the good, the bad, and the baffling that he produced through the four rounds.
The margins are small at this level. In 72 holes, McIlroy had one eagle and 15 birdies but his overall effort was undermined by 10 bogeys and a double-bogey six.
That double-bogey came at the 10th hole on Saturday, where he admitted to mental errors, first in choosing a 3-iron off the tee which brought fairway bunkers into play, and then by hitting out of one bunker and into another.
In effect, that was the moment he could see too big a gap emerging between himself and the Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar combination who turned the destination of the Claret Jug into a personal duel.
All week McIlroy had spoken of his feeling that his game was progressing, and he was proved right in that respect.
The pity was that he could not perform at his very best. Time is on his side - he is only 28 - but he admitted that three years is too long since his last Major victory, which was at the 2014 Open in Hoylake.
"Geez, one year, one Major, feels like too long. But these things happen.
"You look at Jack Nicklaus, he went through a stretch where he didn't win a Major in three years. I'm not comparing myself to Jack. It's hard to win them. It's very hard.
"It's the reason, especially in this generation, excluding Tiger, no one's got above five. So it's tough to win them.
"We have a 20 or 30-year window of where we can. And I got off to a great start in my career.
"But as I said, I've still got 15, 20 more years to add to that tally.
" I feel like three years has been too long. But at the same time I'm not going to rush it, I'm not going to stay impatient.
"I'm going to play my game and hopefully my chance arrives at some point and I'm able to take it," he said.
That chance could arise at Quail Hollow in the US PGA Championship.
If ever there was a course to give McIlroy some comfort, it's that renowned venue which is situated near Charlotte, North Carolina.
His first victory on American soil came in the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, and he won the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship at the same venue, breaking his own course record by a shot to set a new mark of 61.
This is the way of golf. Take the hit. Deal with the disappointment of today, and start focusing on the events to come.
McIlroy does so with a feeling that, while he has work to do, particularly on his iron play, he can be encouraged as he looks forward to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the week after next, and then the US PGA.
"I'm excited for the next two weeks. I haven't played at Firestone for a couple of years. The last time I played there I won.
"I play well at Quail Hollow. I'll have some really good vibes going into that week," he said.