Familiar heart-breaker Rory McIlroy as Claret Jug slips at the 150th Open Championship

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The biggest risk in a relationship is heartbreak, and rarely is that more evident in golf than Sunday night on the Old Course in St. Andrews when the 150th Open Championship ended.

Over the course of three rounds at the most romantic venue in the sport, a fairy tale unfolds that makes it hard to understand. On a week where Tiger Woods played Old for perhaps the last time of his career and Rory McIlroy headed the big winner 15 times on his way out, it looked like McIlroy would end his long drought. His 8 years in the most important place.

The masses attending this Open Championship believe that during a decade of disappointments – including the injury withdrawal from the 2015 Open last St. Andrews to host – it would be worth it if the person they came to see came back. towards town with a three-time lead on Sunday afternoon. Walk into any store, eat in any restaurant in St. Andrews and has a single name on the lips of patrons.

For a bit, it looks like McIlroy will deliver. After playing the first 10 holes on 2 under, McIlroy quickly left the field 3 holes … and then Cameron Smith was completely heartbroken. Five in a row started the second game, his life’s ups and downs on Road Hole and closer at last winning the Claret Jug resulted in a major championship record – 30 record coming for Smith.

Fans staggered away from the Estuary of Eden as they tried to revive their dream and drag their boy across the finish line, but McIlroy had nothing in his tank and evenly split the last 8 holes (and 12 of 13). last hole) to lose two.

As the game settled in and McIlroy made his way to the bend towards the last holes, a baby cried on the 16th tee. Someone shouted, “Have to wait another six years!” As if letting the Claret Jug slip through your fingers like the sands of time hadn’t hurt enough.

“It was hard,” Justin Thomas said. “The expectation part is one of the hardest things that I’ve had to deal with feeling like you should play well or feel like you should win or want to win because everyone wants you to win. I think that’s the thing. that’s really underrated. can do with those expectations and pressures.”

One theme in golf this summer has been a lesson for centuries: When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Such was the case Sunday with McIlroy, albeit in a different way.

The idea of ​​”golf in the kingdom” is having an existential moment. What used to mean that seaside links were played with souls now means 54 holes are played without. People in the sport believe McIlroy has fought for what’s right when it comes to the future of the game, and it’s hard to find anyone either inside or outside of the wire who wants to see someone other than him lift. average on Sunday.

“His aura hasn’t changed,” says Tony Finau, who has known McIlroy since they were eight years old. “He’s always been a really nice, sincere person. That hasn’t changed. To me, he’s been like Rory since I’ve known him. He’s stubborn, but I have to say, I agree. I agree with most of what he said I think he’s great for our game He’s going to be a great champion today I think the golfing world probably wants him to win. won, but for me, whether he wins or not, I’ve always been a big fan of Rory, and he’s been a good friend of mine for a very long time.”

Marcus Armitage has a similar view: “He does everything right and in the right way. He spends a lot of time with the fans after a game. It’s been too long since he hasn’t won a championship. big… I’m just trying for Rory.”

There is only one place for a prince to play golf, and Sunday is supposed to be a reminder that he wears a cap, not a crown. But when the (still) four-time big winner dropped his hat on the 72nd hole, disappointment was evident on his face.

McIlroy has more gray hair than his 33 years. Genetics, perhaps, but also the result of him opening his chest and letting the public see inside. Fans love him for his golf; they revere him for everything else.

McIlroy posed questions in a corner of the makeshift newspaper hut when, 150 yards from him, Martin Slumbers bellowed about Champion Golfer of the Year. There were some sad scenes this week at The Open, but this is possibly the saddest.

“Whenever you put yourself in that bright light, you are faced with setbacks and setbacks,” explains McIlroy. “Today is one of those times, but I just need to dust myself and come back and keep working hard and keep believing.”

Rory McIlroy is a romantic. That is clear. That’s part of why he’s the hottest character in the game today. Like every golfer, he dreams of the future. Unlike most golfers, he has the talent to make those dreams come true.

In a quiet moment this week – perhaps as the sun fades to pink on Saturday night off the North Sea – McIlroy allowed himself to consider what it would feel like to lift the Claret Jug as the a husband and father.

“I’m just human,” he said. “I’m not a robot. Of course you think about it, and you picture it, and you want to picture it. My hotel room is right across from the big yellow sign on number 18 on the 18th right on the 18th. 1. And every time I go out, I’m trying to picture ‘McIlroy’ at the top of that chart, and how does that feel?

“At the beginning of the day, it was topped, but by early tomorrow, it won’t be. Of course, you have to let yourself dream. You have to let yourself think about it and what it was but once I did Being on the golf course, it’s just the task at hand and trying to play the best golf I can.”

McIlroy golfed well all week, but still not good enough. In the end, the story for McIlroy was the same as it had been for years at major championships: not enough clubs were taken, someone else burned the field, too many bad cards got into the hole he made. should have plugged in.

The margins are comically low in major championship golf, and McIlroy – like everyone else – certainly thinks the magic of St. Andrews will make a difference. It didn’t do. The irony in this sport for players like McIlroy is that the closer you get to victory, the more frustrated you become when you don’t get there.

McIlroy darted out of the media hut and disappeared around a corner. When he reappeared, his wife, Erica, was by his side. They jumped in the middle of a golf cart as Smith estimated how many beers he could pour into the Claret Jug. McIlroy’s manager was in the back of the cart, facing the media, his eyes wet and red. He’s not the only one.

When the driver pressed the pedal, Rory took off his hat, just as he did on the 18th green. As Smith stroked the trophy, McIlroy turned to face his wife. As they began to curl, he buried his face in her shoulder and mourned what was lost. None of them moved as they disappeared from sight.

Golf is the cruelest game, but that’s also what makes it the most beautiful.

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