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Rory McIlroy dreamed of winning this Open. Then came the heartache

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Rory McIlroy had every chance of winning his second Open Championship, but Cameron Smith stole the show.

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Closeness can be dangerous, perhaps too tempting. Rory McIlroy stayed with the Rusacks this week. One of the best hotels in town, it overlooks the 18th hole of the Old Course. There’s a balcony out back, and earlier this week McIlroy shared where his family was staying in Tiger Woods. They waved at Poppy, McIlroy’s one-year-old daughter.

From his bedroom at the Rusacks, McIlroy said he had a view of the Open Championship standings across the 1st fairway. When he glanced at the board, he let his mind wander. What would happen if he won that Open Old Course championship?

“I’m only human,” he said. ” I am not a robot. Of course you think about it. At the start of the day, [my name] was at the top, but at the start of tomorrow it won’t be. Of course, you have to let yourself dream. You have to allow yourself to think about that and what it would be like.

Remember that human part. We will come back to it.

Rory McIlroy did not win the 150th Open Championship. Cameron Smith did, which contradicts all that unscientific information that pointed to McIlroy’s victory this week. He did too a lot of sense.

He entered the day tied with Viktor Hovland and four ahead of anyone else. But McIlroy’s putter never helped him, he didn’t birdie enough and signed for a two-under 70. Two-under rounds don’t win Old Course Opens – certainly not in the benign conditions the players faced this week – which is why Smith stepped in with an eight-under 64 and one-shot victory over Cameron Young, who shot 65. McIlroy finished third in solo, two behind Smith.

“I’m fine,” he 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 majors. It’s one that I feel like I missed, but there will be other opportunities.

Rory McIlroy’s putter went cold in the final round of the Open.

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Sunday in St. Andrews, the bells rang in town. That’s part of its charm. McIlroy said on Saturday he had become accustomed to a mid-morning nap with those afternoon tee times. But one of the most important parts of her routine is putting her phone away. This helps it block out distractions. He hasn’t won a major tournament in almost eight years; he tried many things to deal with nerves, thoughts, overanalysis.

McIlroy has an interesting history here at the Old Course. In 2010, he started with 63, only to shoot 17 worse on Friday (“Two putts for a good 80,” he said, when asked what happened next.) In 2015 , when he was world No. 1, he injured his ankle in the famous “kickabout” with friends and had to retire.

Now, seven years later, he is married and a father. During the intervening years, he struggled for glory, fought hard to prepare for major tournaments, and became one of golf’s most respected and influential players. It was normal that he was in pole position. Two days earlier, McIlroy had shared a fairway with Woods and tipped his cap at Woods, who may have been playing in his final Open at St. Andrews, and it looked like the stage was now his.

The galleries were so pro-McIlroy it was laughable, literally. Coming off the 4th tee, a group of spectators laughed when a fan, during a quiet moment, shouted “Let’s go, Viktor!” after a roar of “Let’s go, Rory!” filled the air. Let’s go, Victor? Ha! What gas!

“I thought the fans were great today,” McIlroy said. “I thought they were really, really good. Incredibly supportive for me, I wish I could have given them a bit more to celebrate.

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Even when he started slow, he was still the favorite and held the lead outright. Fans not following him waited to see him on the stretch, standing in long queues to enter the stands on the 1st hole to secure a view of the 18th green. Fans without tickets crowded against the fence of The Links, hoping to get close enough to catch a glimpse of the stage.

Some of the tournament hospitality staff left early on Sunday, giving them a glimpse of the golf champion of the year. Half a dozen young women in black slacks, white shirts and gray aprons found a seat on the green railing, craning their necks to see over the crowd. To their left, the balcony of the R&A was crowded. Across the street, people were standing on rooftops and looking out of windows. They were ready.

This is where it had to be to see McIlroy win his fifth major title and second Claret Jug, end world hunger and send the small town of St. Andrews into a frenzy that would last late into the morning. . Or so they thought.

“Obviously he’s got nerves here,” said a spectator, after McIlroy missed a short birdie try at 3. He remained tied for the lead with Hovland.

Three years ago, when McIlroy was the local favorite at the Royal Portrush Open, he quadrupled the first hole. He said he was so nervous when he threw his ball that his hand was shaking. “It came so fast,” he said at the time.

On Sunday, he didn’t mention his nerves. He said he tried to stay as patient as possible and hit good putts. But none of them fell.

McIlroy was an under up front and went around leading by three, but Smith, playing in front pair, opened his back nine with birdies on 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, with the fifth of these giving him the outright. conduct. Smith, one of the best putters on the tour, could not miss. McIlroy couldn’t buy a putt.

Unease for McIlroy fans has set in around the Road Hole, the difficult par-4 17th. Smith led McIlroy, who birdied the 10th, by one, but Smith allowed himself a short throw over the Road Hole bunker. It was a tough climb and descent, even by Tour-pro standards. Smith opted to circle the bunker and gave himself 10 feet to save par and hold his lead, and he emptied it.

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McIlroy had a chance to steal a birdie at 17, but missed his 15-footer two inches left. After Smith birdied the short 18th – which was no surprise – McIlroy needed an eagle to force the playoffs.

Young had just landed a devil playing alongside Smith. It was possible.

There are few scenes that compare to the 72nd hole of an Open. The crowd floods the fairway. Massive stands surround the green. In St. Andrews, it’s even better. The course is in town, and the shops, steeples and rooftops make it all the grander.

But McIlroy did not consider this ending during all those dreamy mornings, he woke up to the world’s most iconic course outside his window.

After making seven straight pars, he rammed it down the slope at 18 and escaped well beyond the hole. He also missed the birdie putt. By.

Children lined the catwalk above the fan entrance, trying to get a high-five or recognition from McIlroy as he made his way to the scoring tent. A man shouted, “Thank you, Rory! Well done! Thank you!” McIlroy paid him no attention.

Then he started the media tours. As McIlroy ascended the stairs to do television interviews, Smith passed below him with a small entourage en route to the 18th green for the winner’s ceremony. Microphones crackled in the background. Then McIlroy met the press.

“It’s been a good week overall,” he said, as the R&A introduced their new golf champion of the year in the background. “I can’t be too discouraged because of how this year has gone and this year. I play one of the best golf courses I have played in a long time. So just keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open.

Smith left the 18th green reading the names on the Claret Jug as McIlroy answered his final interview question. He was poised in front of the media, and then he was able to let his guard down.

I am only human. I am not a robot.

McIlroy thanked reporters and left, his post-tour obligations complete. He disappeared behind the press area for a minute before reappearing to sit in the back of one of the golf carts that ferry players back and forth. His wife, Erica, sat next to him.

McIlroy took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair. A few seconds felt like an eternity. It was his Open to win. He buried his head in his arm and yielded into his wife’s shoulder. The cart sped off and disappeared around the corner.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the editor of GOLF.com. The Minnesota native earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University at Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.

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