Ggreeted by the warmest hugs after more torment in the majors, Rory McIlroyThe wait for glory continues. As an Australian CameronSmith‘s thoughts echoed around the 18th green at St Andrews, the Northern Irishman stood in disbelief in front of the scorers’ hut after the Claret Jug eluded him during a fourth round that couldn’t be described as a meltdown, just missing a spark over him to get to the finish line. Comforted by his wife, Erica Stoll, and exhausted from a tiring day, McIlroy soon slumped and was wheeled off on the back of a buggy to escape a familiar nightmare.
His surrender in Augusta in 2011 still hurts, but a mature McIlroy, embracing his role as golf’s savior amid a civil war fueled by LIV Golf, shone even among his most vulnerable class during his latest disappointment. He refused to protect himself from the moment that would have guaranteed immortality on the Old Course this week. Indeed, as he put it, winning here is “the holy grail of golf,” and it was within his reach until a rampant Smith caught lightning in a bottle on stunning back nine that will live on in legends. Five consecutive birdies just inspired the third final round at eight under par or better to a first major win. His 20-under-par total, equaling Henrik Stenson’s record set in 2016, toppled McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, who had led by four shots early in the final round. The 28-year-old was also the first Australian player to win The opening since Greg Norman in 1993 and the first Australian since Kel Nagle in 1960 to win this famous trophy at St Andrews.
But amid the Aussie euphoria and counting of how many beers could fit in the Claret Jug, the story of The Open 2022 is how McIlroy once again failed to find career-defining redemption after eight years of soul-searching, eventually finding him in third place behind Cameron Young left 18 under par.
“I’m fine,” McIlroy said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a matter of life or death. I will have different chances to win the Open Championship and different chances to win Majors. I feel like I missed it, but there will be other opportunities.
“I was beaten by a better player this week. 20-under par for four rounds of golf around here is really, really impressive. I just have to dust myself off and come back.”
While McIlroy seems better equipped to deal with this setback compared to his past woes, the sudden nature of the changing tide will be difficult to bear considering how he’s expertly positioned in his own “bubble.” ‘ as playing partner Hovland struggled with the scorching pace of those ahead of the course.
Without a reckless streak to capture a three-stroke lead with birdie putts on six and nine, McIlroy finally relinquished control around the 14th as Smith confidently navigated this golf course speedway deep in the Scottish summer. Perhaps his most impressive moment, even more so than his birdie trail, was how he managed to get to 17. He had to slow down and putt around the road hole bunker before a nervous 10-footer disappeared to save par, then accelerated again to 18 to make a crucial birdie to resist Young’s eagle and claim the win gain McIlroy would deliver a perfect ball of a drive into the same hole and give caddy Harry Diamond a determined nod to further underscore his toughness and belief to the end.
“[The plan] worked well until I had to respond to what Cam was doing out there,” McIlroy said. “When I got down to 14, I knew Cam had shagged at 19 at that point and I was 18, so I knew I had to react. I just couldn’t find the shots or putts for it.”
Tiger Woods reveled in the charm of St Andrews on Friday. He evokes memories for his legion of supporters of the aura created during his prime to tame this course in 2000 and 2005. But McIlroy goes on to leave a different but equally intriguing legacy. One that’s more relatable given the struggles.
“He’s obviously a great player,” Smith said of McIlroy. “He’s one of those guys you can’t help but stop when he’s hitting balls on the range and he just seems to be knocking on doors every week it seems.
“He’s probably the most consistent player out here. Yes, he’ll get a major, I’m sure, very soon. He’s just very solid. As for me, I’ve played with Rory a few times and there’s really nothing to fault.”
With 17 top-10 finishes in the majors since winning the 2014 PGA Championship, more than any other player, McIlroy could finally look back to 2022 as the year he discovered the formula to go after four top-8 finishes consistently to survive in the majors.
This wasn’t the fairy tale ending McIlroy so longed for, but unlike before, there’s real belief he can push through in the majors against new odds. McIlroy’s next date with Destiny will deliver more gripping drama, but now he’s coming to terms with the fact that St. Andrews just wasn’t his time for the 150th Open Championship.