Watch: Rory McIlroy fights back the tears and wins hearts of fans after agonising missed cut at The Open
Rory McIlroy choked back tears last night as he spoke of his heartbreak at falling just short in an audacious battle to stay in The Open golf championship that he had helped to bring to Portrush.
And as a devastated Rory fought to control his emotions, even his Sky Sports interviewer Tim Barter admitted that he was close to breaking down too.
The interview came just minutes after Rory's fellow Northern Irish countrymen and women had given him a standing ovation for the way he staged a sensational comeback from an 8 over par round from hell the day before.
Rory apologised as he had to take a break in the interview before continuing to say he was disappointed but happy with his performance.
"This was a week that I'd been looking forward to for a long time." 😪— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 19, 2019
An emotional Rory McIlroy speaks to Sky Sports after seemingly missing the cut at #TheOpen, despite shooting a second-round 65 at Royal Portrush. ⛳
Watch The Open Verdict live on Sky Sports The Open now! pic.twitter.com/xfszO4Do7h
He added: "Yesterday gave me a big mountain to climb but I dug in there, I tried my best, I showed really good resilience. It's going to hurt for a little bit.
"This has been a week I've been looking forward to for a long time."
There were remarkable scenes when Rory strode up to the 18th green as a packed 4,300 capacity grandstand rose to their feet to acclaim his courage even though they knew he would finish a shot shy off the cut that would have extended his participation in the Open over the weekend.
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It was the sort of ovation normally reserved for Open winners but for Northern Ireland golf fans, Rory is clearly a champion no matter what.
Rory generates excitement. He almost came back from gone. So close. Emotions run high, Rory's post-round interview was raw. @SkySportsGolf Tim Barter gave him a hug. Points to both. pic.twitter.com/MNC20w5Eww— ian mcilgorm (@golfsnapper1) July 19, 2019
Rory started his fightback yesterday afternoon just after another golfing giant Tiger Woods waved a forlorn farewell to Northern Ireland and possibly the game after missing the cut.
The cynics had said that David Blaine couldn't have rescued Rory McIlroy and that Billy Graham would have been hard pressed to save Tiger as they tried to avoid an early exit from the world's biggest championship.
But though Tiger looked despondent, Rory was clearly out to prove the naysayers wrong.
Elsewhere, yesterday was a mixed bag of emotions for local fans as Darren Clarke missed the cut when he fluffed a close range putt on the 18th where, several hours later, Graeme McDowell didn't make any mistake with his crucial shot to qualify for the next phase of The Open and raise a cheer that could have been heard at his parents' house in Portrush.
As for Rory, even the most optimistic Open fans had closed their minds to the possibility of a Lazarus-style comeback by the golfer who appeared to have shot himself in the foot with that woeful round on Thursday.
The bookies who'd installed Rory as the 9-1 favourite to lift the Claret jug before The Open had lengthened the odds yesterday morning to 200-1.
Even Jeremy Hunt was a better bet to beat Boris Johnson to Number 10.
Yesterday morning, radio stations rolled out the sports psychologists to dig deep into their text-books to explain Thursday's inexplicable McIlroy meltdown
Rory said he knew he couldn't win The Open though he set his sights firmly on making the cut, but as fans boarded trains for Portrush in Belfast yesterday it was clear they were travelling more in hope than expectation.
Tammy Dennis, from the US, came to Ireland to back Doc Redman, Kyle Stanley and Lucas Glover who are former students of her South Carolina alma mater, Clemson University and was brokenhearted to see Rory's game falling apart on Thursday.
"It's disappointing for everyone here but Shane Lowry is looking good," she said.
Ticketless Sandy Lindsay, from Larne, who was heading to Portrush to soak up the atmosphere said: "I can't imagine that Rory or Tiger will be here for the weekend. It's sad for all the people who do have tickets."
Rod Budrow, from Massachusetts, said: "I felt really bad for Rory on Thursday. He's done an amazing job of promoting Northern Ireland and golf here." Gregg Harrison, from south Belfast, hadn't given up on Rory. "I wouldn't rule him out too soon. With a wee bit of luck he could be back in contention."
Dessie Reilly, from Dromore, County Down, said: "I would still like to think there could be a local winner - in the shape of Rickie Elliott, Brooks Koepka's caddy."
In Portrush, most fans were of the same mind that Rory might not be able to battle his way into the weekend line-up.
But he had other ideas and he came to the first tee box with the air of a more relaxed man than the nervous golfer who made a hash of his opening shot on Thursday, sending it out of bounds.
The fans who stood ten deep at the tee yesterday tried to lift their favourite with their encouraging shouts and applause and he was clearly in determined mood - Tigerish, even - not to repeat the horror picture from the day before.
His first shot went straight down the middle and the multi-Major winner responded with a rueful smile as the crowd roared their approval for the Rory resurrection. The galleries that followed him around the course in the rain were massive and after several birdies their mood was lifted. They started to believe.
"I didn't think even Rory could pull the rabbit out of the hat. But the pressure seems to be off and he's enjoying himself," said McIlroy fan, Dennis Lawlor, from Portadown. But a turn around in Rory's fortunes wasn't to be.
Tiger's departure was intensely sad for his fans too. His body language screamed out that the Masters champion wasn't enjoying peak fitness; that he was a shadow of his all-conquering self and that he simply wasn't on his game.
As the heavens opened, he looked stiff and uncomfortable.
At one point, he crouched down to retrieve his ball and he had obvious difficulty getting up again.
Fans at the 18th cheered him loudly after he finally missed the cut but it sounded more like a sympathy vote, a recognition that they would probably never see his like again.
Tiger looked like a man who couldn't wait to board his private jet at Derry City Airport and fly home. But he did take time to tell journalists that he wasn't finished and that he was ecstatic with the response he had from the "incredible" public in Portrush.
Tiger said the fans here were respectful "which isn't always the case when we travel around the world".
He added: "We hear some rude comments from the kids - I think the adults teach them that. But here they were so respectful and we couldn't have played in front of a better fan base than here."
He said he was frustrated by his form, adding: "I love the atmosphere and the stress of playing a Major. But you are not going to be as consistent as you were at 23. Things are different. I have a different body. I am going to have my hot weeks and I will win tournaments again."
And talking of winners or potential victors, Shane Lowry, from County Offaly, earned himself thousands of new fans north of the border with his magnificently adventurous play that saw him end his day as the joint leader.
Former Northern Ireland international footballers Gerry Taggart and Steve Lomas who've been ever presents at The Open were impressed.
Gerry said: "We're both keen amateur golfers and where better to come to watch the big boys do their best. This is fantastic."
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has also been spotted at Royal Portrush.
Actor James Nesbitt was back at Royal Portrush for a second day in a row.
Taking a new role at The Open was Antrim hurler and 12 handicap golfer Neil McManus from the Ruairi Og club in Cushendall.
But Neil didn't just spectate. He was enlisted by Sky Sports to take part in a contest to find out how far he could hit a golf ball ... with a hurl.
The target set by the broadcaster was 148 yards, one for every year of The Open. Niall, who's more used to thumping a sliotar, smashed the golf ball 147 yards.
Other broadcasters faced different challenges at Portrush. The BBC Radio 5 Live golf team got bogged down on Thursday night in the media car park which had been turned into a quagmire by the rain.
The presenters had to push one of their cars out of the field on a hill above Portrush and their most famous member - TV star Mark Chapman - said he stayed in the trapped car to give directions to the novice driver.
The PSNI who, on Thursday, faced the embarrassment of having millions of Sky viewers seeing one of their patrol cars stuck in the sand at White Rocks beach found a new form of transport for their security role yesterday ... a rapid response inflatable rib which sped over the Atlantic Ocean.