BACK in July, long before the pound had plummeted to about the same value as a thimbleful of soot, Rory McIlroy would’ve given a few quid for an eagle on the final hole of the Old Course during that epic Open Championship denouement in St Andrews.

Amid a fluctuating, fraught and flabbergasting finale to the 150th staging of golf’s most cherished major, the Northern Irishman needed a two on the last to force a play-off with the inspired Cameron Smith. It didn’t happen, of course, and, not for the first time in a grand slam event, McIlroy was left to reflect on what might have been.

Yesterday, on a relaxed return to the Auld Grey Toun for this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the Northern Irishman did make an eagle on the 18th during a practice round. You could just about hear those mischievous golfing gods cackling themselves hoarse.

The Open was undoubtably a sair yin to stomach but it was all part of a sporting life’s rich tapestry in this very special place for McIlroy. St Andrews, after all, was the venue where he earned his European Tour card for the first time back in the 2007 Dunhill Links Championship. He’s done pretty well since then, hasn’t he?

“There are lots of great memories here for me, dad and for my family,” said McIlroy, who will once again partner his dad, Gerry, in this week’s Pro-Am affair. “I feel like it’s where my professional career really began and really took off.

“I got my European Tour card 15 years ago at this golf course and it’s been a pretty great journey since. I’ll always have a deep appreciation for St Andrews and what it means to our game. I think that’s more important than me trying to win an Open Championship here.

“This course and what it means will stand the test of time. I’m in the game for a finite time and one day I’ll move on and leave the game to the younger generation.

“When I look back over the 15 years since I won my card here, it’s been an amazing life, an amazing career. But you still have to remember where you came from. I have to pinch myself sometimes and I have to give myself that little perspective.

“Even just being in that position (at The Open) to have a chance to win on 18 at St Andrews, it’s just stuff that you dream about as a kid. I get to live out my childhood dreams and not everybody can say that.”

It’s been a lively old year for McIlroy. On the course, the world No 2 has illuminated a fine campaign with victories in the Canadian Open and the Tour Championship. Off it, he’s assumed a statesman-like role in the on-going LIV Golf controversy that continues to give the global game the kind of heebie-jeebies that Truss and Kwarteng have given the IMF.

Amid the divisive tumult at the top of the tree, McIlroy is well aware of professional golf’s place in the wider scheme of this all-embracing game. “The professional game is such a small part of golf,” he said. “It (golf) is so much bigger than all of us and sometimes people miss that.

“I thought the 150th Open Championship was really a feel-good moment for the year. It was way bigger than all this crap we’ve talked about all year.

“It was St Andrews and tradition and where the game was created and where it was built. That’s golf at the end of the day.

“We’re all playing the same game. Sometimes our vision of what that game should be is a little bit different but it’s a wonderful game and it’s a game that can be played for life.

“My two-year-old daughter can swing a club and hit a ball with my Dad. That’s one of the most special things about our game that has been lost in all this rhetoric the last few weeks.”

As for all that heated LIV Golf to-ing and fro-ing? Well, McIlroy adopted his usual stance. “I’ve always said that I think there is a time and a place where everyone that’s involved should sit down and try to work together,” he said. “I don’t want a fractured game. I never have. The game of golf is ripping itself apart right now and that’s no good for anyone.”