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Rory McIlroy’s tears after bitterly painful Ryder Cup experience show his fallibility and humanity

To the untrained eye, it had appeared as if McIlroy was on autopilot in his matches here, so unengaged that he had not even managed a birdie prior to his duel with Schauffele. But finally he spelt out the extent of his struggles, his desperation to discover any semblance of his usual game.

McIlroy has spent his entire adult life dealing with merciless scrutiny. He is subject of almost daily polemics demanding to know why he has not won a major for seven-and-a-half years, why he has not made good on his billing as the next Tiger Woods, why he has not brought his talents to maximum fruition. Cumulatively, this pressure takes a toll. 

In the end, with a crushing loss looming under his friend and captain Padraig Harrington, he could stand it no longer. Asked to articulate the strain he had been under, he found that no words would come.

By degrees, we are learning in sport what happens when sports icons do not conform to the paths we have preconceived for them. Already this summer, we have watched Simone Biles abandon any attempt at burnishing her Olympic legend in favour of prioritising her mental health. While there are no suggestions that McIlroy is suffering similar agonies, we are seeing a man wrestling more than ever with his own image.

He has acknowledged before that the quest for majors no longer exhilarates him as once it did, that he enjoys his deepest contentment with his wife Erica and his baby daughter Poppy. This would appear as apt a time as any for McIlroy to retreat to his Florida home, to step away from golf for six months and not be seen until the Masters. 

Even under the tutelage of the brilliant Pete Cowen, he is deriving no benefit from toiling in the global spotlight like this. Somehow, he needs to recover his spontaneity, his zest, his gift for freewheeling like his 16-year-old self.

McIlroy’s vulnerabilities are stripped bare in Ryder Cup mode. Just as the Miracle of Medinah was not complete without him missing an alarm call and requiring a lift to the course from a benevolent state trooper, so this slaughter by the water will be remembered for his tearful postmortem on his efforts. 

At the climax of this, his sixth Ryder Cup, the gravity of his responsibilities were not lost on him. The recognition that he had not played to his potential for his team-mates was what hurt the most.

“I love this event, I love this team,” he kept saying. There was no artifice, no pretence of exaggerating the significance. McIlroy had channelled everything he had into this display and the knowledge that he had come up hopelessly short left him feeling wretched. 

It has become something of a blood sport studying his on-course travails, as he has ended up in parts of Whistling Straits that even its members never knew existed. But at the heart of the drama is somebody all too fallible, and all too human. 

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