Portrush, Northern Ireland (CNN)He was fighting for his honor.
Rory McIlroy had made such a hash of the first day of the Open that even making the cut at Royal Portrush would represent a victory.
Now, in the gloaming of Friday evening, the Northern Irishman was inching towards the cut mark, one nail-biting, stomach-churning birdie at a time.
Leaders JB Holmes and Shane Lowry had long since finished, setting the halfway mark at eight under to lead by one shot from English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood.
But the home crowd sensed the tournament within a tournament was only just heating up.
McIlroy began the first Open in Northern Ireland for 68 years as the sentimental favorite, the local hero set to clinch a fairy tale win.
But his quadruple-bogey eight at the very first hole Thursday punctured that balloon, and he dropped a further five shots in the last three holes to finish with a 79 for eight over.
Needing to catch fire Friday, despite teeing off in sluicing rain, the four-time major champion hunkered down to the task.
The cut was projected to come at one over, meaning he had to make up seven shots.
On a course as formidable as the Dunluce links, in Open Championship set-up, with inclement weather, it was a stiff proposition.
But this was McIlroy, Northern Ireland's most famous sporting son, who set the course record of 61 at Royal Portrush as a 16-year-old.
He was the one they'd all come to see, the man with a nation's weight on his shoulders.
He'd clawed two shots back by the turn, but there was still a mountain to climb. But a run of three straight birdies from the 10th made the impossible dream suddenly appear in touch.
A bogey, via a greenside bunker on the short 13th, was like a dagger in the heart -- back to four over and with holes running out.
But the star from Holywood, near Belfast has always been box office and he refused to give in, manufacturing another birdie on the 14th. The chase was back on and the feverish fans following him knew it and were willing him on.
At the short 16th -- nicknamed "Calamity Corner" -- he put his tee shot to 12 feet and drained the putt, sparking the late crowd in the grandstand to rise to their feet, roaring him on.
One. More. Birdie.
Drama on 17 as his drive caught the right