would have needed to be a robot not to feel the crushing pressure of playing in the Open
on its return to Portrush, according the last surviving Northern Irishman in the event.
Graeme McDowell, who will go into the final day on two under after shooting 68 on Saturday, expressed sympathy for his compatriot who missed the cut.
So did the soon-to-be former champion Francesco Molinari, who added that he found playing in the Italian Open stressful enough, let alone a home Major if he had one.
McDowell briefly wept before his opening round, and could empathise with how emotional McIlroy was when he bowed out on Friday evening after a rearguard action.
'It's great in sports when we see emotions because sometimes these guys look like robots out here,' he said. ' We're not robots; we hurt, and we hurt a lot sometimes.
'To watch him break down a little bit kind of felt like it legitimised my tears in my eyes Thursday morning. I was on the first tee on Thursday wondering what the hell was wrong with me. But when I saw Rory last night I understood it means a huge amount to us all.
'It's all right for me and Darren (Clarke) and Padraig (Harrington) and guys like that saying it's great being here. Rory was the guy with the spotlight on him this week. He was handling all the pressure. He's done a phenomenal job. Rory is a rock star. He was coming in with the pressure of a nation on his shoulders and he was always going to feel a lot more than we did.
'He was wearing his heart on his sleeve and he was laying it all out there coming in. I think Rory probably won himself a lot of fans.'
Molinari will relinquish his title after ending the third day two over after a 72. He, too, felt he had succumbed to the pressure of the occasion, and compared his situation to that of McIlroy.
'What I probably would do different is my expectations, I put too much pressure on myself, especially the first day,' said the Italian. 'But I was probably feeling one tenth of what Rory was feeling, if not less. I guess he had very high expectations for this week and obviously you don't want to disappoint the crowd.
' I have experiences playing the Italian Open, and that's already a lot of pressure. To play in a Major at home on your own course pretty much is unthinkable for me.
'Obviously I would have liked to have a better defence of my title, you don't have the trophy but your name is still going to be on it. So it's bittersweet for now.'
McDowell knew he had left himself with too much to do to mount a serious title challenge, but he had an excellent finish after scoring a birdie at the last, which had hitherto been a hole of woe for his compatriots at this event.
'Eighteen has been pretty cruel to all three Northern Irish lads this week. I think 7, 7, 7, that's normally decent if you're on the slots, but not so good if you're on the 18th hole at Portrush for me, Darren, and Rory,' he joked.