GOLF

‘Only human’, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy finishes two shots behind Cameron Smith

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Every time Rory McIlroy ventured out of his hotel room in St. Andrews, Scotland this week, he could see the large yellow scoreboard above the Old Course’s first and 18th holes .

At the start of the final round of the 150th edition of the Open on Sunday, McIlroy’s name was in the lead, alongside Norwegian Viktor Hovland. But after 18 holes, McIlroy’s name had slipped to third after having another major championship slide on his hands.

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McIlroy, a four-time major winner, finished two strokes behind Australian Cameron Smith, who shot an 8-under 64 on Sunday and finished 20 under after 72 holes.

“I’m only human. I’m not a robot,” McIlroy said. “Of course you think about it, and you imagine it, and you want to imagine it. … And every time I go out, I try to imagine McIlroy at the top of that ranking and what does it feel like ?

“At the start of the day it was great, but at the start of tomorrow it won’t be. Of course, you have to let yourself dream. You have to let yourself think and how it would be, but once I was on the golf course, it was just [the] task at hand and try to play the best golf possible.”

McIlroy, 33, has now played eight full seasons since his last major victory at the 2014 PGA Championship. Since then, 31 majors have been played, which have been won by 23 different golfers, but not him.

It was the 17th time McIlroy had finished in the top 10 at a major tournament, the most of any player since 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has finished in the top five nine times, including three of four this season.

“It’ll be okay,” McIlroy said. “At the end of the day, it’s not life or death. I will have other chances to win the Open Championship and other chances to win major tournaments. This is one that I have feel like I let it slip, but there will be other opportunities.”

McIlroy had a four-stroke advantage early in the round and a two-stroke cushion over Hovland on the turn. He didn’t let this one slip away as much as others in the past. Smith posted one of the best final rounds in major championship history. Smith shot 6-under 30 on the back nine, having birdied five straight.

McIlroy didn’t play badly; he just didn’t play well enough to win the Claret Jug. He hit 18 of 18 fairways. He hit 12 of 16 greens. He didn’t make a single bogey. While Smith made a birdie run, McIlroy couldn’t get his approach shots close enough to make himself look good. He narrowly missed several birdie putts.

“I was hitting good putts,” McIlroy said. “They just weren’t falling.”

McIlroy is only the second player in the past 30 years to lead or co-lead after 54 holes, play a bogey-free final round, and lose. Jason Day was the other in 2015.

“He’s obviously a great player,” Smith said of McIlroy. “He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but stop when he’s hitting balls on the pitch, and he keeps knocking on doors every week it seems. That’s probably the most consistent player here. Yeah, he’s going to get a major, I’m sure, pretty soon. He’s just really solid.”

McIlroy will have to wait nine more months for his next chance, at the Masters in April. He finished a career-best solo second at Augusta National last spring. He only needs to win a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam.

“I just have to keep getting into position, keep getting into this,” McIlroy said. “And every time you step into that bright light, you’re going to have to deal with setbacks and failures. Today is one of those times. But I just have to dust myself off and come back and keep working hard. and keep believing.”

Despite major disappointments, McIlroy has played some of the best golf of his career this season. He’s finished in the top 25 in 11 of 13 starts, including victories at the CJ Cup @ Summit in October and the RBC Canadian Open in June.

McIlroy said he will take the next three weeks to compete in the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee, Aug. 11-14.

“I’m playing well,” McIlroy said. “Once again, this is one of the best seasons I’ve had in a long time. I want to end the season well. I want to end the season well. There is still golf to be played. The major season is unfortunately over , but I still feel like there’s a bit more to play for.”

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