Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar were still duking it out at Royal Birkdale yesterday evening as Rory McIlroy’s attention turned towards the PGA Championship and a final shot in 2017 of breaking a three-year major drought.
The Irishman collected another big cheque (€412,000) for his tie for fourth alongside Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello at five under par, secured with a closing three-under-par 67 but the overriding feeling was that this was yet another major championship that had passed McIlroy by.
The world number four has to hark back to the PGA Championship at Valhalla in his golden summer of 2014 for the last time he lifted some significant silverware, the sizeable Wanamaker Trophy.
That had come three weeks after the Claret Jug last came into his possession and McIlroy had plenty of reference points in this week alone to underline the disappointment.
Cheif among them was the awful start to the four-time major champion’s first round, which had seen him ship five bogeys in his opening six holes before rallying in magnificent style to post a one-over 71 on Thursday.
A second-round 68 put him right back in contention but Saturday brought more disappointment with a 69 eclipsed by his rivals above him on the leaderboard, not least Jordan Spieth’s second 65 of the week.
McIlroy started yesterday’s final round nine shots adrift of Spieth’s lead and eight straight pars made little impact, despite the leader’s own travails on the front nine. A first birdie came at the ninth, and another followed at 11 before disaster struck once again when he lost the ball following a wayward tee shot at the par-five 15th when an eagle would have been his objective.
After the permitted five-minute search, McIlroy was forced to play his provisional ball and missed the green with it, instead finding a greenside bunker. Yet, though an excellent escape from the sand gave him what could be classed as a good bogey, it was the end of his already slim chance of closing the gap on the lead.
As good as it was, the eagle at the second and final par five, the 17th, came too late and he would miss the fairway right with his tee shot on 18 on the way to par, signing for a 67.
“It’s a lost opportunity,” McIlroy said. “I said that (on Saturday). I felt like I had a chance to get in a few shots better than I did. And I didn’t. That would have put me a bit closer to the lead going out (Sunday) and maybe I would have been able to put a bit of pressure on the guys in front of me. But that’s the way it goes. And just got to wait a couple weeks and try again at Quail Hollow.”
Yes, Quail Hollow in Charlotte, South Carolina, where he has won twice before on the PGA Tour in 2010 and 2015 and will relish returning to for next month’s PGA Championship. Placed in context, against the backdrop of his three missed cuts in the four starts leading up to The Open and then the terrible start to his first round at Birkdale, while still operating well below optimum level following the rib injury he continues to manage, McIlroy allowed himself a view of the bigger picture as he heads back to the United States ahead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he also won during in the middle of those back-to-back major wins in 2014.
“It was a step in the right direction, I guess. Looking at what happened the last few weeks, which is obviously a lot better.
“The PGA is only three weeks away. So I’m happy that’s coming quite quickly on the back of this. The game is in much better shape than it was heading into this week. So I’m happy with that.
“It’s hard whenever you feel like you’ve had a chance to win a major and you’re not quite there, it’s disappointing.
“But at the same time, I have to take the positives. And I’m looking forward to the next few weeks.
“I wish I could have had that start back, obviously. But these things happen and I’m just proud of how I held it together and battled. But I feel like with the way my game is I’ll definitely have a great chance at Akron (home of the WGC-Bridgestone) and the PGA.”
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