Home favourite Rory McIlroy misses out amid Open comeback attempt
One Northern Ireland golf fan summed up Rory McIlroy’s unpredictability as the mercurial home favourite’s comeback fell agonisingly short.
“He’s like our weather,” he said.
From the brutal to the brilliant, the Co Down star delivered a performance that almost repaired his disastrous first round at the Open Championship.
But almost was not enough and the thousands who stayed as the gloom descended on Royal Portrush on Friday evening were ultimately left disappointed as McIlroy missed the cut by a single shot.
Roger McLernon, from Lisburn, was the one who made the meteorological comparison as he reflected on the difference 24 hours made.
He also hailed the fighting spirit the multiple Major winner showed on Friday. “He’s gutsy,” he said.
David McVeigh, from Bangor, was another golf fan who stayed late at the course.
He said McIlroy would rue the short putt he missed on the 16th hole on Thursday.
“He made a great comeback today,” he said. “It will be a terrible pity that that careless putt from yesterday has come back to haunt him.”
Justyna Hudson was one of many US fans who flocked to Portrush on Friday, having jetted in from New Hampshire with husband Daren to celebrate her 50th birthday at The Open.
Predicting McIlroy and Tiger Woods’ earlier exit, she expressed disappointment that the tournament’s historic return to Northern Ireland would be shorn of two of its star names before the weekend.
“We were hoping Tiger had done a little better,” she said. “I feel badly for Rory in front of the home crowd, my heart hurts for him for that.”
Her husband said he was a fan of the “old timers”, particularly his namesake Darren Clarke, who but for a disastrous seven on the last was set to make the halfway cut.
“I have an affiliation with Clarkey for sure,” he said.
Earlier, as Co Westmeath’s Shane Lowry marched to the top of the leaderboard during Friday afternoon, the roars could be heard back in Mullingar.
Richard Gordon travelled from his home in Dublin having booked a ticket a full year ago.
“I was pretty fast off the mark getting a ticket,” he said.
McIlroy and Woods’s failure to contend was not about to spoil his day.
“It’s disappointing, yes, but the championship is bigger than anybody,” he said.
The rain had eased by the time McIlroy served up the late drama.
Earlier, a kaleidoscope of umbrellas was as varied as the accents beneath them as fans from around the world braved the showers.
The melting pot of nationalities among the tens of thousands who descended on Portrush for the famous championship was a marker of just how many eyes are on the Causeway Coast this week.
The only other time The Open was played at Royal Portrush, in 1951, it was won by flamboyant Englishman Max Faulkner.
Sixty-eight years on, Bill Wood, from Louth in Lincolnshire, reflected on a notable claim to fame as he arrived for The Open’s second outing on the testing seaside links.
“I played Max Faulkner back in the mid-70s,” he said. “There was a course in Lincolnshire that had been redesigned and Dai Rees (former Ryder Cup captain) and Max Faulkner and myself played an exhibition match to open it. He was probably in his late fifties/early sixties then, it was great.
“Him winning The Open was a wonderful achievement because I think shortly before that he had been thinking of giving up the game.”
A handy golfer himself in his day, Mr Wood, who was attending The Open with wife Yvonne, said he was just pipped by the champion golfer back in 1973.
“He shot 71, I shot 72 but I beat Dai Rees,” he smiled.
Michael Addley, from Carrickfergus in Co Antrim, who owns his own golf apparel business Rock Solid, said he was struck by the international make-up of the galleries.
“It’s brilliant hearing the many accents and languages from around the world, and shows the world what our wee country has to offer,” he said.
Out on the course on a day where the sun did sometimes trump the showers, US multiple major winner Jordan Spieth earned one local admirer when he hit a shot awry on the 14th and immediately apologised to his caddie Michael Greller for his mistake.
“Oh, he’s a very polite boy isn’t he?” she observed.
Back at the first hole, a Scottish steward raised plenty of chuckles below the brollies as he joked about the fate of McIlroy’s opening drive the day before, a ball that struck an unsuspecting fan’s mobile phone on its way out of bounds.
“This is the danger zone by the way,” he cautioned those standing in the same spot awaiting the Co Down star on Friday. “As long as you haven’t got an iPhone you’ll be OK. I can’t believe all the Irish that were over here yesterday and no-one kicked it back in.”
Steve Waddelove, from Formby in Merseyside, has visited every course on The Open rota bar one.
“This is right up there, this is probably the best I think,” he said of Portrush.
“We just love the event so much we try and go wherever it is. It’s fantastic.”
Mr Waddelove and his wife were following their local favourite, Southport’s Tommy Fleetwood, as he moved into contention.
“Tommy is our local hero from back home,” he said.
His wife Christine, originally from Bangor, Co Down, said she never thought she would see the day The Open returned to her homeland.
“When I was growing up in the 1970s with the Troubles, it seemed a long way off that anything like this would happen and now it’s fantastic,” she said.
Chris Welcome, from Brereton in Staffordshire, was in Portrush courtesy of a surprise 60th birthday present from wife Debbie. “The golf is tough here,” said the Lichfield Golf and Country Club member. “I play myself but I’d be looking at scoring probably 120 around here.”