Rory McIlroy’s major successes are far from over, says Graeme McDowell, who has backed his friend to rebound from his Royal Portrush disappointment.
Hometown hero McDowell gave the locals plenty to cheer about as The 147th Open Championship moved into the weekend today but he was the only Northern Irishman to make the halfway cut as world number three McIlroy joined Darren Clarke in exiting the major on home turf last night.
For McIlroy it was an agonisingly premature end to the first Open in his homeland since 1951, the Holywood, Co. Down star who shot a brilliant second-round, six-under-par 65 but still missed the cut by one stroke following his disastrous opening 79.
While McDowell, who did make the weekend’s play and shot a three-under 68 today to move to two under after 54 holes, admired McIlroy’s spirit and his show of emotion at coming up short last night, fighting back tears in his post-round television interviews as his majors drought extended beyond a fifth year, he said the 30-year-old had plenty of time to fulfil his potential and win many more than the four he won between 2011 and 2014.
“He won't finish on four. He'll win more. I have no doubt in my mind,” McDowell said after his third-round. “Five years is a huge gap for a man of his capabilities, no doubt about it. But people grow up at different rates. There's so much happens in a man's life. He's met his wife, got married. Life, for me, life gets in the way sometimes.
“I feel like he's gone through that transition in his life and he's spent this year trying to really get himself settled and become more philosophical and really meditation and all the things that he's working on. I feel like mentally he's settling back down and getting back into his rhythm again.
“I'm not making excuses for the guy. Yeah, five years is a big gap for him. But he's still a young man. He's only 30 years old. He's in the shape of his life. I think mentally he's in a great place.
“In the meantime, there's some great players out here. It's hard to win. It's hard to win major championships. It's hard to win any championship. I have a huge belief in him that he'll win soon and he'll win several. I think double digits is well within his capabilities. But it's a tough landscape out here now.
“He'll get fairly criticised this week for not playing well but he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders this week. It's difficult to come home and try and do what he tried to do this week with all that pressure and all that spotlight.”
As for the televised show of emotion from McIlroy, Portrush man McDowell added: “I think anyone that watched Rory finish yesterday it was exciting. It was like he was winning the tournament coming down the stretch yesterday. He was wearing his heart on his sleeve and he was laying it all out there coming in.
“And to watch him break down a little bit, kind of felt like it legitimised my tears in my eyes Thursday morning a little bit. I was on the first tee on Thursday wondering what the hell was wrong with me. But when I saw Rory last night I understand it means a huge amount to us all.
“I think Rory probably won himself a lot of fans last night. To show that raw emotion, to see how much it means to him, to see how much it means to all of us being out here and to bring this great tournament to Portrush, and for him obviously to not play the way he wants to play, the way he battled coming down the stretch says a lot about him as a person.
“It's great in sports when we see emotions because sometimes these guys look like robots out here. We're not robots; we hurt, and we hurt a lot sometimes. It's a tough sport.”