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One poor round came at the wrong time for McIlroy

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    Rory McIlroy waved to the crowd on the 18th green after completing his final round at the British Open.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland » One bad round. One completely, utterly awful round.

Take that away, and Rory McIlroy‘s walk up the 18th fairway yesterday at the British Open might have been triumphant.

"I couldn’t help but think about Friday going up the last hole there," McIlroy said after shooting a 68 that moved him into a tie for third. "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 finished eight strokes behind winner Louis Oosthuizen. Take away the 80 he posted Friday and give him a score in the 60s — as he had the other three days — and it explains why he wasn’t thrilled with his best finish at a major.

McIlroy’s best finish at the British Open was a tie for 42nd three years ago. He failed to make the cut at either the Masters or the U.S. Open this year.

"I knew that I had a good chance coming in here, and it was nice to sort of be there for a while," he said. "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."

With Lee Westwood, the No. 3 player in the world, still nursing a bum leg, McIlroy arrived at St. Andrews as the best hope to end the United Kingdom’s losing streak at its own open. No golfer from Britain or Northern Ireland has hoisted the claret jug since Paul Lawrie in 1999, and Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win, claiming the last of his three Open titles in 1992.

Though only 21, McIlroy is the kind of precocious talent who could carry the continent for a generation. The Northern Irishman turned pro in 2007, earned his European card without going to Q-school and broke into the top 10 in the world before his 21st birthday. He claimed his first PGA Tour win in May, bringing Quail Hollow to its knees with a 62 on Sunday.

McIlroy tied the major championship record by shooting 63 in pristine conditions Thursday morning. But with the wind howling and the Old Course showing its considerable bite, he blew up with the 80 on Friday afternoon.

"For three rounds, I was 16 under par, so it’s in there. It’s definitely in there," McIlroy said. "It’s just a pity about Friday."

But don’t expect him to keep wondering, "What if?"

"It’s not going to give me nightmares," he said. "I was 16 under for three rounds of golf around St. Andrews in the Open, and just one bad round. It’s fine."

Woods switches putter

In retrospect, maybe it was the putter.

Tiger Woods switched back to his trusty Scotty Cameron model for yesterday’s final round and promptly sank two birdie putts in his first three holes. Both came from only about the 10-foot range, but they went in.

Woods’ even-par 72 featured just 27 putts — five fewer than any other round this week on the Old Course. And no three-putt greens.

"I just felt that my speed was off," he said after finishing in a tie for 23rd, "and just going back to something where I know how it comes off."

The Cameron model had been in play for 11 years without a break, all the way back to the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic. It contributed to 13 of Woods’ 14 majors and 60 other PGA Tour victories.

But Woods went with a new Nike model to start the week, saying it produced better pace on slow greens usually seen in Britain. Yet Woods needed 32 putts on Thursday, then 32 and 35 when the greens sped up in the windy conditions that followed.

Fowler truly stands out

John Daly finally has some competition for worst outfit.

Rickie Fowler did his best imitation of a giant pumpkin in yesterday’s final round, decked out in hazard-cone orange from head to toe. Shoes, pants, belt, necklace, cap — even his Rolex had orange accents.

"I went to Oklahoma State," Fowler said, explaining the reason for his Day-Glo outfit. "Not many people wear orange. It’s a good way to stand out."

Actually, Fowler didn’t need any help for that. He finished his first British Open in a tie for 14th at 4 under after posting his second 67 of the week yesterday. He also made one of the best shots of the day, holing a putt of almost 130 feet from off the green for birdie on the 17th hole. Fowler tossed the ball into the crowd after he fished it out of the cup.

The Associated Press and Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.


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