PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland -- After dropping his final putt of the second round of the 148th Open Championship on Friday, Rory McIlroy took off his hat and waved it in the air, as the enormous gallery surrounding the 18th green at Royal Portrush Golf Club gave him a standing ovation.
It was a moment McIlroy had dreamed about for much of his life.
"I'm trying not to imagine what it was going to be like on a Sunday," McIlroy said. "It's a moment I have envisioned for the last few years; it just happened two days early."
The biggest story in the second round wasn't Irishman Shane Lowry holding a share of the 36-hole lead, Brooks Koepka contending for another major, or stars like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Gary Woodland missing the cut.
The biggest stir came from a player who started the day 13 shots behind co-leader J.B. Holmes, after taking a quadruple-bogey 8 on his very first hole of the season's final major.
Over five hours on Friday, though, McIlroy captured the imagination of his native Northern Ireland, as he nearly did the impossible: climbing out of a cavernous hole to make the cut and stick around for the weekend in the first Open played on Irish soil in 68 years.
In the end, McIlroy shot 6-under 65, 14 shots better than his opening 79, for a 36-hole total of 2 over. He missed the cut by 1 shot.
Needing a birdie on the 18th to make the number, he pulled his second shot to the left of the green and couldn't make magic with a wedge.
Along the way, thousands of fans followed him on the Dunluce Course, where he set a course record with a 61 as a 16-year-old.
"As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, by the end of the round I was doing it just as much for them as much as I was for me," McIlroy said. "I wanted to be here for the weekend. Selfishly, I wanted to feel that support for two more days."
McIlroy, who grew up in nearby Holywood, nearly pulled it off. He had a 2-under 34 on the front nine, and then he had birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12. He had a bogey on the par-3 13th hole, after hitting a 7-iron into the right greenside bunker and failing to get up and down.
McIlroy bounced back with another birdie on the par-4 14th with a 12-footer. He was able to get up and down out of another bunker to save par on the par-4 15.
Needing two birdies in the last three holes to make the cut, McIlroy got the first on the par-3 16th hole, known as "Calamity Corner." He hit a 5-iron about 230 yards, leaving himself a 10-footer. He drained it, sending the patrons into a frenzy.
McIlroy had another good birdie look on the 17th, but left a 20-footer on the low side and settled for par.
Then he came up short on 18 at the end.
Afterward, while speaking to reporters, McIlroy was asked to describe his emotions.
"There's a lot of them," he said. "Disappointment to not be here for the weekend. I'm unbelievably proud of how I handled myself today, coming back from what was a very challenging day [on Thursday], and just full of gratitude to every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on."
After McIlroy's debacle on Thursday, when he drove his opening tee shot out of bounds en route to making 8 and also had double-bogey 5 on No. 16 and triple-bogey 7 on 17, he wasn't sure how the hometown patrons would respond.
His performance in the first round seemed to suck the air out of the first Open Championship at Royal Portrush since 1951.
"I didn't know how people were going to react to yesterday, how many people were going to be on the first tee. Is it just a lost cause?" McIlroy said. "To have that many people out there, following me and cheering my name, it meant the world to me. I'm glad to some degree I gave them something to cheer about today."
McIlroy lives in Florida and rarely gets back to Northern Ireland, where his parents still live.
"Over the last week, it has been an eye-opener for me," he said. "You're so far away you forget about all of the people that are cheering for you back home. And then you play in front of them, and it definitely hit me like a ton of bricks today."
McIlroy, who has won 25 times as a pro, including four major championships, only wished he could be around for the weekend to feel it again.
"Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played," he said. "It's strange saying that and standing here having had a bit of success and [having] won this championship before, but to play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum, you really dig in.
"It's going to be a tough one to get over."