He was walking up the 72nd hole reflecting about what might have been.
About those five or 10 shots he wished he could have saved Friday. About his opening 63. About his chance to run off and hide and win his first major championship.
Rory McIlroy knew it would happen. He talked about it Saturday night. One minute he's throwing out a 63 and talking major. The next he's wondering what hit him.
That the 21-year-old fought back to share third at this 139th British Open speaks volumes about what's in front of him. About the next major -- the PGA Championship. About the way he righted a week that could have gone so terribly wrong.
McIlroy started 11 shots behind leader Louis Oosthuizen and wound up eight back. He threw out a closing 68 to go with his 63-80-69 start. He looked ahead, but not before he admitted he looked back.
" You know, if I had just sort of stuck in a little bit more on Friday and held it together more, it could have been a different story,'' McIlroy said. "But the other three rounds I played very, very solidly. After that 80 on Friday, I felt as if I came back well by shooting 7‑under at the weekend.
"You know, the game is there, and I can take a lot of positives out of this week.''
He can also admit more than a disappointment.
" I knew that I had a good chance coming in here, and it was nice to sort of be there for a while,'' said McIlroy who won the Quail Hollow Championship this spring. "You know, yeah, I'm still a bit disappointed to be honest, because I know if I could have played anywhere decent on Friday, I could have been a lot closer to the lead. I'm not saying that I could have got to 17‑under, but I definitely could have been contending for second place anyway.''
He was. But when you open with a 63 . . . . "You fancy your chances going into the next three days,'' he said. "It just so happened to be it got very windy on Friday and I just didn't feel with it very well.''
Would a practice round in that kind of weather have helped? Maybe.
"I probably could have handled it a bit better, but I hadn't played in wind like that for a long time,'' he said. "So it was a bit of a new experience.''
So was joining that elite group of players who have shot 63s at majors. So was reminding the golf world that his share of third place at last year's PGA or the share of 10th at last year's U.S. Open were not just blips.
"I'm sure I'll wake up in the morning and just look at ‑‑ I was 16 under for three rounds of golf around St. Andrews in the Open,'' he said, "and just one bad round. It's fine.''
-- Melanie Hauser