In reality a string of events during an utterly freakish McIlroy Thursday curtailed his Open involvement.
"Look", McIlroy said, "it's a moment I envisaged for the last few years".
Sharing the lead with Lowry is first-round leader J.B. Holmes.
Lowry, 32, famously won his national open as an amateur in 2009.
An emotional Rory McIlroy was left to rue a horrendous opening round as a gallant second-day comeback fell short and he missed the cut by one at Royal Portrush. He carded seven birdies and dropped just the one shot, at the 13th, but it would have needed to be the best on its own to qualify him for round three. He missed the cut by 1 shot. Then on the final nine holes, things started to unravel for Lowry a bit as he bogeyed the 14th and 18th holes after collecting a birdie on the 10th. It was a Limburger sandwich for the affable four-time major victor, who was widely expected to shine at a place where 14 years ago he shot a course-record 61 in competition at age 16. Mostly, though, he said he was "full of gratitude toward every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on".
"It sucks I'm not here for the weekend. It was satisfying. I'm proud of myself to reset and get the attitude right after [Thursday's triple-bogey finish]".
McIlroy, who grew up in nearby Holywood, almost pulled it off.
McIlroy set the course record of 61 at Royal Portrush when he was 16-years-old, but started with a quadruple-bogey eight-over on the first hole in Thursday's first round. 10, 11 and 12. He was left of the green on the par-5 second, which looked like a simple up-and-down for birdie until his putt barely reached the green.
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Afterward, while speaking to reporters, McIlroy was asked to describe his emotions.
"You know what, there's a lot bigger things than this", said Duval, who shot a 91 - six shots worse than the next-highest career round he could recall. "Disappointment to not be here for the weekend". "And unfortunately, I've only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it".
McIlroy arrived at the tournament, which is being held in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, seemingly conflicted about how to approach the championship, whether to embrace the occasion or to treat it as just another major. He walked to the first tee Friday unsure if people would see his week as a "lost cause".
"It was one of the most fun runs of golf I have ever played", he said. "I'm glad to some degree I gave them something to cheer about today".
"Obviously, I'll be in last place". "You're so far away you forget about all of the people that are cheering for you back home".
Lurking in a large cluster of players who shot 68s is Brooks Koepka, who has won four majors in the past two years - two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships - and finished second at the Masters and U.S. Open this year. "And two days in a row I've hit the ball really well and putted well". "It's unusual 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".
That showed in one last slash out of the rough in the rain on 18, then a putt from off the green that got only halfway there.