Rory McIlroy insisted he had no regrets with an Open runner-up finish to Francesco Molinari as he posted his best finish in a major since his fourth and most recent victory in 2014.
The 29-year-old’s wait for a first major since the PGA Championship at Valhalla four years ago will have to wait at least another month when his last chance of 2018 will take the Irishman to St Louis and the PGA at Bellerive.
McIlroy took a share of a four-way tie for second place alongside Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, and Kevin Kisner on six under par, two behind first-time major winner Molinari after a rollercoaster final round of 70 on a dramatic final day at Carnoustie when Tiger Woods also briefly led the Open Championship.
A share of the clubhouse lead for @McIlroyRory. He shoots under par for the fourth time this week.July 22, 2018
Having started at five under par, four back on 54-hole co-leaders Kisner, Schauffele, and Jordan Spieth, McIlroy quickly fell off the pace with bogeys at the second and fifth, both par fours, but rallied around the turn to get back those dropped shots with birdies at the ninth and 11th.
Another bogey at the 12th seemed to spell the end of McIlroy’s bid for a second Open title — having won at Hoylake in 2014 — but he burst back into contention at the par-five 14th, becoming part of a six-way share of the lead following a 40-foot eagle.
EAGLE at 14 for @McIlroyRory. From nowhere he is back in a share of the lead.
Yet that was as good as it got for McIlroy, who could not keep pace as Molinari kicked up a gear after opening with 13 straight pars. As the Italian birdied the 14th to go to seven under, McIlroy could only par his way home over the difficult closing stretch.
He needed at least a three at the par-four last to apply pressure on Molinari but sent his 15-foot birdie putt inches wide, throwing his head skywards as if to reflect on what could have been.
“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars,” McIlroy said. “Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything. There’s a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was ‘go and spoil the party’ here.
“It was cool. It was really cool. I have no regrets. I played the way I wanted to play this week. It gives me a lot of encouragement going into the final major of the year.”
McIlroy added: “I played well. I could have squeezed one more out of the round today. When I made the eagle on 14, it was tough to get close on 15, 16, and 17. The only real chance was at the last. Came out of the wedge a little bit, but still left myself a putt where it was holeable.
“But, look, I think anything under par out there today was a good score. I’m happy with how I played. I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back. Just sort of ran out of holes.
“When the eagle putt went in on 14, I felt, if I could get one or two out of these last four holes, but it was just tough. Where they’d put the pins and with the winds, it was tough to get them close and tough to make birdies, and as I said, the only real chance was at the last. And even if I had held that putt, I would have come up one short.”
McIlroy said he would take huge positives out of his week in Scotland, adding: “I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat. I feel like it’s a good week. One guy out of 156 is going to win, 155 other guys are going to leave a little disappointed.
“But, yeah, I committed to everything. I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. I just ran out of holes.
“I hung in there. I did what I needed to do. I had some clutch putts coming down the stretch.
“So I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done, and the golf that I played, and I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”