Rory McILROY was left hoping that a careless three-putt bogey was not the difference between making the halfway cut and packing his bags at the US Open in San Francisco last night.
The defending champion’s shoulders sank when he missed a 15-foot birdie chance on the final green of his second round – and then he missed the tiddler coming back.
The bogey four meant a three over par 73 to add to his opening 77 and at 10 over he was resigned to making his fourth early exit from his last five tournaments.
“If the cut is nine (over) I won’t be feeling too good tonight,” said the 23-year-old Northern Irishman after clearing his locker and preparing to fly home.
World number one Luke Donald was on his way out too, a 72 leaving him 11 over and still waiting for his first major title.
There was disappointment of a different sort for McIlroy’s compatriot and predecessor as champion Graeme McDowell.
Birdies at the 15th and 16th – his seventh and eighth holes of the day – lifted McDowell into second place on his own at two under par.
However, McDowell then bogeyed three of his last four holes and with a 72 slipped back to one over and joint ninth.
He was still right in contention, however, as most of those ahead of him were only just teeing off.
They included little-known American Michael Thompson, three clear overnight following a sparkling 66, and he bogeyed his third hole – the 430-yard 11th – to drop back to three under.
Tiger Woods was the favourite after his opening 69 and he remained one under and joint second with Ryder Cup teammates David Toms and Jim Furyk after surviving the 520-yard par four first undamaged.
Lee Westwood was playing with McIlroy and Donald and he shot 72 to be five over, the same as Ian Poulter (75), while Justin Rose was one better after he too shot 75.
Donald knew he needed something special after starting with a 79 and after the promise of an opening birdie – he did not have any on the first day – his chances slowly ebbed away.
“It was a little better today, but little consolation obviously,” he said. “I think I missed nine putts inside 10 feet yesterday and just couldn’t get a feel for the greens.
“It wasn’t to be and I’m trying to learn from it and come back stronger next time.I feel I was prepared – I certainly don’t regret anything that I did before teeing up.”
Last year he admitted to overdoing things.
“I think it was more a case of just not quite feeling too comfortable with the swing this week and that happens,” he added.
McDowell stated: “It’s just tough to have fun out there, I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s just a brutal test of golf.
“I’m disappointed to bogey three of the last four, but that’s what this golf course can do to you in a heartbeat – and if you had offered me one over par starting on the first tee yesterday I would have probably snapped your arm off for it.
“I’m very happy to be where I am. I made enough birdies to kind of offset some mistakes,which I think’s key.”
With an exit looking likely, McIlroy added: “I felt I hit it okay, but this course is so punishing if you get out of position.
“I felt I had really turned a corner last week (he was seventh in Memphis and had a chance to win before double-bogeying the last) and if this was a normal tournament I think I would be there or thereabouts.
“Playing your best it’s still a really good test. I’m trying to not let it frustrate me and trying to see positives. I do because I’m hitting good shots and giving myself chances.
“I’ll go home now and start playing some links golf.”
He has the Irish Open at Royal Portrush next in a fortnight - he is the course record holder there - and two weeks after that comes The Open at roytal Lytham.
As he departed Woods moved into a share of the lead - thanks to Thompson following his bogey with a double bogey.
The pair were one under along with Furyk, the only one of the three finished, since Toms resumed with a bogey.
It was ominous for the rest of the field when Woods, given a huge boost by winning the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago, hit his tee shot to five feet on the 247-yard third.
When the birdie putt went in he was two under and led on his own.