HOYLAKE, England — Rory McIlroy tried again, but it wasn’t enough.
Nine shots out of the lead entering Sunday, the four-time major winner began his final round by making three birdies in the first six holes — just like he did Saturday — and giving himself an outside shot at making a run for the Claret Jug. But any glimmer of hope for a McIlroy comeback and a win for the ages vanished over the next 12 holes.
When the putts stopped going in and the drives and approach shots lost their sharpness, McIlroy, drenched in Liverpool’s rain, finished The Open in sixth place, 7 shots back of eventual winner Brian Harman and without a major championship for the ninth year in a row.
“It was just hard,” McIlroy said. “I needed to go out and shoot something 63, 64-ish, but really hard to do that in those conditions.”
McIlroy, like he has done all year, was in the hunt despite not reaching his full potential in every round. He ranked seventh in the field in strokes gained on approach shots and sixth in strokes gained off the tee. His putting and short game (54th in strokes gained putting, 75th in strokes gained around the green) were not debilitating, but they were simply not good enough to give him a true shot to win Sunday.
“I missed a few putts yesterday. Felt like I putted better today,” McIlroy said.
The putting was only one issue. The rain and wind didn’t allow McIlroy to be as aggressive as he could have been with his biggest weapon: the driver.
“Very reluctant to hit the driver because the club face gets wet and the ball could go anywhere,” McIlroy said. “I had to lay back off tees and try to play as conservatively and as smart as possible.”
Still, McIlroy gave himself opportunities on the green that he couldn’t capitalize on all week. The putt to save par on No. 16 on Sunday that circled around the cup and improbably stayed out all but summed up his week. His putt for birdie on No. 18 was one last cruel miss — left of the hole by about an inch.
McIlroy, 34, couldn’t replicate the magic from his performance at Hoylake in 2014, when he won his third Grand Slam title, leaving him once again with a year of plenty of close calls but no major to show for it. McIlroy, however, remained adamant that his optimism about his game, and his major chances, has not wavered.
“I improved on my score every day,” McIlroy said. “Not spectacular, but a lot of optimism going into the rest of the year.”
In the absence of a major win, it’s easy to ignore the consistency that McIlroy has displayed over the past two years. Other than a missed cut at the Masters this year, McIlroy has finished inside the top 10 at seven of his past eight major appearances. There is a reason it feels like déjà vu every weekend at a major with McIlroy once again coming up just short: He does enough to put himself in that position even when his game isn’t at his best. His ceiling might be higher than ever, but so is his floor.
“Most times I tee it up, I’m right there,” McIlroy said. “I can’t sit here and be too frustrated. If you think about my performances in the majors between like 2016 and 2019, [this] is a lot better than that.”
McIlroy doesn’t seem to dwell on his major drought as much as he seems to care about winning everything he can. He spoke Friday about shifting his focus to winning his fourth FedEx Cup, fifth Race to Dubai and his fifth Ryder Cup. The close calls have brought on scrutiny and criticism, but to McIlroy, they appear to be continuing evidence that his time will soon come.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” McIlroy said. “I just keep looking forward.”