Rory McIlroy: Northern Irish fans mean more to me than I realised before The Open
If there was to be a silver lining to Rory McIlroy's heart-wrenching missed cut at The Open, it's a new and strengthened bond between Northern Ireland's greatest ever golfer and his home support.
The world number three thrilled fans at Royal Portrush with a six under par 65 on Friday. Crushingly, it was only enough to come within one shot of making it to the weekend.
However, his four under par back nine will live long in the memory of everyone privileged enough to have been there to witness it.
Four birdies in five holes sparked real belief that McIlroy was about to pull off the impossible and make the cut despite a catastrophic opening round 79.
As the faith grew, so did the volume in the packed galleries.
"That was what was overwhelming for me," admitted McIlroy, discussing the crowd and his teary Sky Sports interview after the round. "I didn't cry because I missed the cut, I was overwhelmed by the support I got.
"At the end of the day, I didn't think I meant as much to them and I realise that they mean more to me than I thought they did.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
- Watch: Rory McIlroy fights back the tears and wins hearts of fans after agonising missed cut at The Open
- '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
- 'He won't end on four': Rory McIlroy tipped for plenty more major wins as emotional reaction to Open exit will earn fans, says Graeme McDowell
"It went both ways and it was really nice. I had to probably stop myself from crying about four times on the back nine not because of the situation I found myself in, but just because of the support.
"It sounded like Sunday. I just had to take a step back and realise I mean a lot to these people. That felt really good. Selfishly, I would have loved to have played in that atmosphere for two more days.
"It's such a weird thing to say, to think of a missed cut as one of the best experiences I've had on a golf course.
"There is some sort of silver lining in there somewhere, I guess."
It was a first for the usually steely-eyed McIlroy, being so overcome by emotion on the course.
"Sometimes I try to take the emotion out of golf, think logically, but I was emotional on Friday and still able to play good golf," he said.
"That was a good lesson. Sometimes a bit of emotion isn't a bad thing.
"The standing ovations I was getting walking onto greens and from greens to tees, that's when it hit me, so at least I had time to gather myself before the next shot."
His week began, of course, with a tee shot out of bounds on the first hole on Thursday - a direct consequence of the stature of the competition and the venue.
"I was so relaxed in the warm-up and once I was announced and I put my tee in the ground, I noticed my hand trembling," he said.
"I thought 'geez this is different'. In hindsight, I probably should just have freewheeled with driver instead of trying to hit an iron.
"I think subconsciously I knew I was uncomfortable because I suggested a different club to Harry (Diamond - caddie). He said 'well this is the club we've gone with all week and it's gone well, why would you want to hit something different?'
"I'm like 'ehhh I don't know'.
"I was surprised at how nervous I was. It came on so rapidly, that's what was different. I was totally find and then..."
McIlroy also admitted that he will have to adapt his strategy leading into major tournaments.
This year, he tried to 'treat them like every other event' but the 30-year-old says it's only now he has realised how different the four headline tournaments truly are.
Whatever way he approaches the majors next year, the sure thing is that his fans, of which there are even more after Friday's rare show of emotion, will be right behind him.