LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were safely back in the clubhouse and scratching around for positives by the time the lead group had even started their final rounds at the British Open.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.
The second- and third-ranked players came to Royal Lytham & St. Annes ready to lead the European charge with No. 1 Luke Donald. After horrible weeks on the Lancashire links, they left beaten men.
"You try to force it and you're maybe trying too hard and things don't go your way -- that happened this week," was McIlroy's assessment of his four days at Lytham after finishing at 8-over 288 and a tie for 60th.
The 39-year-old Westwood has now gone winless in 59 majors. Is time running out for one of the best players never to win a major?
"Life begins at 40, so they tell me," he said, more in hope than expectation. He was tied for 45th on 6 over.
Of Europe's big three, the consistent Donald looks in the best shape ahead of next month's U.S. PGA Championship.
Like Westwood, he is still searching for his first major title and admits he gets more anxious as the grand-slam tournaments approach.
But he didn't let his head drop as a string of birdie chances went begging over the weekend, preventing him making a run at the leaders.
A final-round 69 was one of the best of the day, and left him on 2 under and on the leaderboard.
"I'll take a lot of positives away from this week," said Donald, who had putts lip out on Nos. 7, 9 and 12. "Certainly I'll leave this week knowing that my game is definitely good enough to win majors.
"I'll come away from here with a lot of confidence knowing that my game tee to green was easily good enough to win this week."
McIlroy's troubles at Lytham will do nothing to silence the critics who say the Northern Irishman's game is stuttering as a direct result of his relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.
"I'm obviously very disappointed because I felt like I was coming in here playing pretty well," said McIlroy, who had missed four of his previous six cuts in a barren spring and early summer. "I had a really nice first round , set myself up well for the week and then just started to struggle after that. So it's just disappointing."
McIlroy, who shot a second straight 73 Sunday, felt there were positives to take into his next event, the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
"I had a good practice session on the range [Saturday] night and feel like I found something good there," the 2011 U.S. Open champion said. "So that's something that I can work on this week and look forward to getting to Akron and trying to play there."
Having said in his pre-tournament news conference that he fancied his chances coming into the British Open, Westwood acknowledged those comments had been slightly misleading.
"I didn't have much of a game coming in here. So I didn't expect too much," a forlorn Westwood said after his 72 on Sunday.
"It's one of those things. You play golf long enough you have no problem with it."
A pull shot that has crept into his game of late returned at Lytham, costing him three shots in his final round.
"You just learn to live with it," Westwood said, "and just keep working on it."