It was hard to say what was louder. The bawls and bellowings of the galleries as Irishman Shane Lowry manoeuvred himself into a share of the lead on day two of The Open Championship here at rollicking, rousing Royal Portrush or the roars and howls of those same decibel-generating spectators as Rory McIlroy fought manfully to make the cut.

And, my goodness, what a fight he put up. McIlroy had been left lolling on the ropes after that harrowing 79 in round one but the gloves were off yesterday as he landed a series of counter blows that just about left dents, bruises and grazes on the Dunluce links.

His rampaging six-under 65, which was 14 shots better than his error-strewn opening effort, was fantastic but, ultimately, futile as he fell a shot shy of the one-over qualifying mark.

The ovation he received on the 18th had everybody wondering just what could have been. “I’m trying not imagine what it’s going to be like on Sunday,” said McIlroy as the opportunity to absorb the passion and praise on the final day of an Open in his homeland was denied him.

The National:

With Lowry rallying the masses with a 67 which left him sharing the lead with JB Holmes on an eight-under total, a giddy, emotional cocktail of excitement, tension, hope and anguish accompanied every shot as McIlroy tried to haul himself back inside the cut mark.

In the fading light of a damp, dour evening, the atmosphere really was quite intoxicating as the collective will of the masses tried to sook McIlroy’s ball into the hole.

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Given his calamitous start on Thursday, McIlroy was faced with one of the biggest reeling in jobs since they tried to land Moby Dick. He didn’t just have his back against the wall, he was almost stuck in the pointing.

Two birdies on the front nine helped but three in a row from the 10th cranked up the volume. Mission impossible was suddenly looking, well, possible.

A tee-shot in the bunker and a bogey on 13 would prove hugely costly in the final analysis and despite a further brace of birdies it was too little too late.

“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” he added of the support he received from his ain folk. “Sometimes you’re so far away and you forget about all the people who are cheering you on back home. And then you come and play in front of them and it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

If McIlroy’s surge was captivating then Lowry’s early charge was equally as uplifting and could’ve been accompanied by an infantry bugle call. A quartet of birdies on his first five holes – in fact six in his first 10 - had the 32-year-old bounding along at a furious lick and at one stage he was two shots clear.

His momentum was halted with a three-putt bogey on the 15th and then a “duffed” approach to the 18th spawned another dropped. Nevertheless, a share of the lead at the halfway stage of an Open on Irish turf was something to savour.

Lowry, who won the Irish Open as an amateur at Baltray a decade ago, had major glory in his grasp a couple of years ago at Oakmont when he led the US Open by four shots on the final day only to implode amid the tumult.

It took him a good while to fully rinse that disappointment away but Lowry is a different man now. “I’ve got over that, it took me a while, but I got over it,” said Lowry, who has missed the cut in his last four Open Championships. “If I get the opportunity this weekend, I’ll be better.”

Lowry won the North of Ireland Amateur Championship here at Portrush in those formative golfing years. He relishes the conditions that The Open is being played out in and he’s enjoying the tidal wave of support too. Familiarity with this neck of the woods continues to breed contentment.

“Next week I’ll be in Memphis and there’ll probably be 10 men and a dog following me,” he chortled. “There’s going to be thousands cheering me on so I’m going to enjoy it.”

The National:

Against a backdrop of patriotic fervour, Holmes will probably have to just settle for applauding his own shots in his pairing with Lowry today.

The American, who was third in the 2016 Open at Troon, fortified his sturdy position in the upper echelons with a 68 for his eight-under aggregate.

Lee Westwood, who has flirted with a variety of major wins but has never consummated the relationship, is right in there again on 135 after a 67 while Tommy Fleetwood added a 67 to Thursday’s 68 to thrust himself back into the spotlight.

By his own admission, the Southport man’s topsy turvy form has led to him operating largely under the radar this season but on the biggest stage he continues to sparkle.

“It’s your chance of putting your name in the history of the game,” said Fleetwood. “All of us dream of having majors in our career and taking those opportunities.

“I think the other side of that is, you don’t know how many times you’re going to actually get the chance to compete at the back end of a draw on Saturday or Sunday in a major and it’s important to embrace it and enjoy it whatever happens.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen next week or the week after. You have to realise what a lucky position you’re in and how well you’ve done to get there.

“I’m not going to tee off tomorrow and say: ‘I’m going to love this whatever happens.’ I want to make it happen. I want to win a major.”

The National:

Justin Rose and major machine Brooks Koepka lurk ominously at six and five-under respectively on a tantalising leaderboard but Tiger Woods joined the dearly departed as he missed the cut on six-over, despite a battling 70.

Darren Clarke, who had been so instrumental in bringing The Open back here after 68 years also exited, cruelly, after a triple-bogey on the very last hole.

He wasn’t the only Northern Irishman to be left thinking of what might have been.