LYTHAM - For the second year in a row, Rory McIlroy limped away from the British Open with his head bent low after he failed to make any impression in Sunday's final round at Royal Lytham.
The 23-year-old Ulsterman could get nothing going in gentle early conditions as he came in with a 73 for the second straight day. That left him stranded well down the field at eight-over par 288 and heading home before the leaders had even started their final rounds.
It was all too reminiscent of last year at Royal St George's, when McIlroy played poorly just a month after his dominating triumph in the US Open. On that occasion, he bemoaned the fickle British weather and said how happy he would be to get back to playing in the sunshine of the United States. But at Lytham he was more measured in his comments.
"Obviously very disappointed because I felt like I was coming in here playing pretty well," he said.
"I had a really nice first round, set myself up well for the week and then just started to struggle after that. So it's just disappointing.
"It's hard when you're trying to just get that little bit of momentum and you try to force it and you're maybe trying too hard and things don't go your way, and that sort of happened this week."
McIlroy has now played in five British Opens and, with the exception of St Andrews in 2010, he has struggled each time to handle the demands of links golf and the unpredictable weather that goes with it.
But he said that he had time on his side, with experience being widely seen as being one of the main ingredients in producing an Open winner.
"I think the thing for me is to stay patient," he said.
"It's a 20-year career, so I'm not going to get too wound up just over a few weeks. I've got to keep working away, plugging away, working hard and working on the right things and eventually it will come around."
There was also the compensation of being finished in time to sit back and watch fellow Ulsterman and close friend Graeme McDowell bid for Open glory later in the afternoon.
McDowell was in second place, four strokes behind leader and playing partner Adam Scott in the final group.
"I'm going to be sitting in front of the TV and pulling for him," McIlroy said of McDowell.