Rory McIlroy was 14 shots better in the second round than he was on Thursday, but a 65 left the hometown favorite one stroke from making the Open Championship cut at Royal Portrush.
McIlroy ran out of hometown magic but gave a strong effort before a raucous and supportive gallery following a brutal opening round.
McIlroy, who grew up in Northern Ireland approximately an hour drive from the Royal Portrush Golf Club, nearly pulled off the improbable after opening the final major tournament of the year Thursday with an 8-over-par 79.
It took all of McIlroy's course knowledge and determination to reverse his fortunes Friday and shoot a 6-under 65 in the second round, but a final birdie was not to be had after the four-time major winner missed the green with his approach shot at the 18th hole.
His one-putt par left him at 2-over par for the tournament.
"It was awesome, sort of emotional," McIlroy said of the crowd support in an interview on the ESPN broadcast. "I feel like I get a lot of great support anywhere I go, but I really felt it today. Every green to tee, all these people are here for me and they want me to do well. It sucks I'm not here for the weekend. I would've loved to play in front of them for two more days."
Adding to the backdrop of McIlroy's week was his history at the famed course. He once played Royal Portrush as a present for his 10th birthday.
McIlroy's first-round struggles at a course he knows so well came as surprise. He shot a course-record 61 at Royal Portrush when he was just 16.
That kind of play was somewhat evident early Friday when McIlroy opened the front nine at 2-under with birdies at No. 3 and 7. His charge really started to gain momentum with birdies on the opening three holes of the back nine.
An untimely bogey at No. 13 derailed did not help the cause. He found a fairway bunker off the tee while following an aggressive line and was unable to salvage par. He still rebounded with a birdie at No. 14 and another at the par-3 16th hole but could not find one last birdie.
The 14-stroke improvement from his first round to his second round was by far his best in any event. His previous best improvement between the first two rounds was 10 strokes at the 2018 U.S. Open.
"I'm proud of how I snuck in there and played a really solid round of golf today," McIlroy said. "It wasn't quite enough. The good thing about this game is there's always next week. Dust myself off and get ready for (the WGC-FedEx-St. Jude Invitational at) Memphis."
--Field Level Media