Rory McIlroy admitted he was beaten by the better player in The 150th Open after seeing his dream of a second Claret Jug slip away on a dramatic Sunday at St Andrews.
McIlroy began the final round with a share of the lead but was playing catch-up down the back nine courtesy of a remarkable run of five straight Cameron Smith birdies from the 10th.
The 2014 Champion did not drop a shot throughout his final round but could not make the birdies required to turn the tide back in his favour, his approach shots leaving him just too much to do on the green as countless putts stopped just short or slid past the cup.
He went down the last needing an unlikely eagle and the game was up when his aggressive chip raced past the flag, leaving McIlroy to sign for a two-under-par 70 and reflect on his latest near-miss.
“I didn't do much wrong today but I didn't do much right either,” he said.
“It's just one of those days where I played a really controlled round of golf. I did what I felt like I needed to just apart from capitalising on the easier holes -- around the turn, 9, 12, 14.
“If I had made the birdies there from good positions, it probably would have been a different story.
“But, look, I got beaten by a better player this week. 20-under par for four rounds of golf around here is really, really impressive playing, especially to go out and shoot 64 today to get it done.
“I wish that I had hit it a little closer with some approach shots, and I wish I'd have holed a couple more putts. I missed an opportunity on 3. I had sort of half looks on 6 and 9.
“The putter just went a little cold today compared to the last three days. I tried to stay as patient as possible, and I kept hitting good putts. They just weren't dropping.”
McIlroy’s fourth top-five finish since his Royal Liverpool success completed a first top-10 clean sweep across majors in a calendar year but that will do little to satisfy a player who retains an insatiable appetite for success.
He had the crowd on his side at St Andrews and they rode every wave with the 33-year-old throughout four days that saw him in contention from the outset, with McIlroy admitting he dared to visualise standing on the 18th green as Champion once more.
“I'm only human, I'm not a robot,” he said. “Of course you think about it, and you envision it, and you want to envision it.
“My hotel room is directly opposite the big yellow board on 18 there right of the 1st. And every time I go out, I'm trying to envision McIlroy as the top name on that leaderboard and how that felt.
“At the start of the day, it was at the top, but at the start of tomorrow, it won't be. You've got to let yourself think about it and what it would be like, but once I was on the golf course, it was just task at hand and trying to play the best golf I possibly could.
“I can't be too despondent because of how this year's going. I'm playing some of the best golf I've played in a long time.
“It's just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open. I've just got to keep putting myself in position, keep putting myself in there.
“Whenever you put yourself in that shining light, you're going to have to deal with setbacks and deal with failures. Today is one of those times.
“But I just have to dust myself off and come again and keep working hard and keep believing.”