By Martyn Herman
GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy turned the last 11 holes of his British Open into a glorified practice round on Friday as the Northern Irishman missed a British Open cut for the first time.
The world number two was already in dire trouble after an eight-over par 79 opening round and despite improving for a 75 on Friday his challenge came to an inauspicious end.
McIlroy described himself as "brain dead" and "unconscious" after his Thursday struggles on the scorched Muirfield layout but did finally recover his senses to play the final 11 holes in even par - no mean feat on the unforgiving greens.
It was a small positive to take away for a busy spell of six tournaments in eight weeks after which he said he hoped to rediscover the form that took him to the 2011 U.S. Open and last year's PGA Championship.
"I needed to get off to a fast start to have any chance of being here for the weekend but I was five-over through seven holes, so that didn't really happen," he told reporters.
"After that I just decided to try and I guess practice a little bit for the next few weeks coming up.
"I decided that I was going to hit driver every hole that I could, because that's going to be a big factor the next few weeks, and I actually drove the ball pretty well, and ended up playing the last 11 holes even par.
"That was encouraging, but obviously I'm disappointed to be going home for the weekend. It's the first time I've missed a cut at the Open."
McIlroy's next tournament is the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, where he is at least guaranteed four rounds of golf.
"It's a place I feel I can win. So going there, really excited to just play four rounds of golf," he said before adding with wry smile that "there's no cut".
McIlroy was not the only major winner to miss the cut as U.S. Open champion Justin Rose also bowed out on 10 over after rounds of 75 and 77.
"It was brutally tough," said Rose, who took three weeks off after winning the U.S. Open at Merion.
"This golf course just proved a bit too much for me this week and I wasn't quite prepared to play the U.S. Open all over again to be honest.
"This felt more like Shinnecock Hills in 2004 than it did an Open championship. I wasn't really expecting that."
Former world number one Luke Donald was another to perish, as did former Muirfield champion Tom Watson who, along with playing partner Nick Faldo, another former champion, was given a rapturous ovation.
"It just wears you out," said 56-year-old Faldo after a rare competitive appearance. "I'm delighted I did it but I don't recommend it. Don't try something when you haven't practiced."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)