His record round of 61 was one he described as an “out of body” experience and the first time the teenager had ever enjoyed a bogey-free round. How dearly he needed a performance like that this afternoon after his nightmare opening round yesterday.
The Northern Irishman has missed the cut only once before at The Open, in 2013, but he was staring down the barrel of an early flight back to his Florida home having begun the day on eight-over par.
After such a terrible start — including the quadruple bogey at the first and two fluffed tap-ins from four feet on the 16th — McIlroy was still hopeful he could produce something to delight the home crowd.
“Obviously, I’m pretty sure anyone starting with a 79 doesn’t think about winning at this point,” he said.
“But if I can find the fairway, I think I can go out there and shoot something in the mid-60s and be around for the weekend.”
Twenty-four hours previously, there were nerves at the first tee as he hit his first shot out of bounds and then his approach to the green proved unplayable. While McIlroy had nothing to lose today, he would have been desperately looking for a nerve-settling birdie or two alongside playing partners Gary Woodland and Paul Casey, and avoiding any similar howlers.
McIlroy was positive enough following his on-course implosion, facing the media scrutiny openly and, when asked if there was a way back from his 79, the 30-year-old even quipped: “There’s definitely a way back to Florida!”
He described his missed tap-in on 16 as “inexcusable” and said of his opening round: “I didn’t get a very good account of myself out there and I can definitely play better as all of you know.”
Rory's rotten opening round
|In: 40||Total: 79|
Starting day two in 150th place, McIlroy will need an incredible turnaround to continue his Portrush journey, a course he dreamed of hosting The Open as a youngster. The fact his disastrous round was watched by family and friends made the experience more painful.
He added: “I’m going to go back and see my family, my friends, and hopefully they don’t think any less of me after a performance like that. I’ll dust myself off and try to do better.”
McIlroy had approached the first tee as the tournament favourite, with his form in 2019 consistent and the fact he knows the course better than most. But it means his long wait for another Major victory will go on for another season.
By the time he tees off for the Masters in 2020, it will have been nearly six years since his last win on golf’s biggest stage. In the interim, Tiger Woods has come back from his lowest ebb to win a Major, while Brooks Koepka has picked up four to Jordan Spieth’s three.
As he took stock of the latest missed opportunity, McIlroy said: “I thought if I could have got home in two over for the day I would have still been in the tournament, but the finish derailed that. It was a rough start and a rough finish and it added up to a pretty dreadful score.”