THERE was disappointment in Holywood Golf Club last night but deep pride in Rory McIlroy after his agonising failure in the Masters.
Groans rang out from the club’s three bars as the young man who had developed his game on the fairways just outside the clubhouse windows launched his final round at Agusta badly, by dropping a shot in the very first hole.
And yet that unhappy start to the evening did not at first affect the boisterous atmosphere in Holywood GC, where members and other well-wishers had gathered round the big screens showing live coverage from Georgia.
McIlroy had begun the day with an unreal four-shot lead over some of the best golfers in the world, but this advantage quickly collapsed as he shot over par in the first and the fifth holes.
Meanwhile, the screens were flashing constant bad news as competitors such as the mighty Tiger Woods advanced on the local hero.
At 9.10pm there was the first big roar of the night when the crowd’s early confidence in Rory was rewarded with his first birdie. Twenty minutes later, fresh cheers met a blunder which saw Tiger go over par.
But it all began to unravel from then on, with some disastrous play by the 21-year-old.
At 10pm, on the tenth hole, he dropped three shots.
Ben Smith, a golf journalist for The Times newspaper who has covered the Ryder Cup and who had flown over to Belfast yesterday morning in expectation of a happy human success story, said of that nightmare 10th hole: “That is where he fell apart. He hadn’t been doing well up to then and had looked nervous from the start.”
Then further bad news piled up for the young golfing hero from Northern Ireland, who had soared so spectacularly in the first three days of Masters.
When, at 10.30pm, Rory missed a number of puts to blow another three shots on a hole, there was brief stunned silence in the club’s lounge bar.
It was if the BBC commentator, whose voice was heard across the room, was right there in Co Down when he said: “You don’t know what to say at moment’s like this.”
The crowd then started cheering Rory in moral support as he walked off the green, dejected.
After this point the TV was not even showing very much of McIlroy, concentrating on players who were now several shots in front of him, and the screens were not the subject of the rapt attention they had earlier been.
Stephen Gordon, a 27-year-old professional golfer at Bangor who first encountered Rory when the latter was aged 8, put a brave face on the disappointment:
“We have had glimpses of his brilliance and it will only stand him in good stead.”
Stephen said that watching Rory is always a “tremendously proud moment - we are with him every shot”.
Watching events in the member’s bar most of the evening was Wilbur Walker, a past president of Holywood GC who knew Rory when he first started hitting golf balls aged two, who said: “This is the start of Rory. He is going to be the best player in the world.”
But by 11pm, before the tournament was over, Wilbur was among those who had already headed home in disappointment that the Masters was not going this year as expected to the Holywood’s greatest golfing talent.
Rory’s lifelong association with the club explains why almost everyone seemed to know him last night, but there were a handful of people who had never met the young star.
Among them was Ursula O’Reilly from the town, who came along for the atmosphere.
“I am not a golfer, I am a watcher. But we came to cheer him home.”
Like everyone in the building, she looked forward to future successes from McIlroy.
“It is great that he has come from this club and this town.”