'The Ball Was On A String That Week' - McIlroy On His Best-Ever Performance

Rory McIlroy reflects on the performance he considers the greatest he's ever produced

Rory McIlroy celebrates his eight-shot victory in the 2011 US Open
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy is teeing it up at the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac this week. However, while the World No.7, who has just turned 33, will defend his title memories of a nearby triumph came to the birthday boy’s mind ahead of the tournament.

TPC Potomac stands around 20 miles from the US capital Washington DC, but just across the road is Congressional Country Club, the scene of the first of the Northern Irishman’s four Major victories. There in 2011, McIlroy swept to victory in the US Open, finishing eight shots ahead of runner-up Jason Day and introducing himself to the world as an exceptional talent.

For McIlroy, his trip to Maryland for this week’s tournament brought back some special memories. He said: “Eleven years ago does seem like a long time ago. It is a distant memory. I think I’ve watched it back so many times, I don’t really remember the experience of it. I remember more just from watching on a laptop or a TV screen. It is cool. I was driving in here yesterday morning and going along whatever road that is and I looked left and I thought, 'That looks like Congressional. Oh, that is Congressional.' So good vibes obviously from this area.”

Aside from that win back in 2011, there are other reasons McIlroy has such good memories of the occasion. He set 11 US Open records in the tournament, including the lowest total of 16 under and the lowest 72-hole score of 268. Not surprisingly, McIlroy holds that performance as a benchmark for future tournaments. He continued: “I still to this day think it’s the best week of golf I’ve ever played in my life. The ball was on a string that week and you wish you could bottle that every single week that you play. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, but I think that’s still the benchmark of how I can play. That’s as good as I could play that week.”

Asked if there was a particular memory that stood out, McIlroy wasn't so sure. He said: “Not necessarily. Just sort of how free-flowing it was and how at ease it looked. Yeah, just sort of how comfortable I was with everything. I was coming off the back of a tough loss at Augusta and that was still fresh in my memory. I think I was just so hyper-focused that week that I knew I was playing well, and I think just the lessons of Augusta, they stayed with me the whole way throughout the week and I didn’t get ahead of myself and mentally I was just in a really good place.”

McIlroy endured a final-round nightmare at Augusta National in 2011 but fared far better this year, turning on the style at the same stage to claim the runner-up spot with his best-ever Masters finish. McIlroy said he takes encouragement from that performance. He said: “It gives me comfort knowing that my game is there. And no, not more expectation or pressure. I think that’s always there, that’s always been there, but I got a lot of confidence from that round on Sunday. I did a lot of great things. It’s something to definitely build on over the next few weeks.

With the year’s second Major of the year, the PGA Championship, just weeks away, McIlroy will hope he can start that process with a win this week. If he does, he'll be increasingly confident of claiming his first Major since 2014 at Southern Hills next month, perhaps drawing on the memories of that incredible performance back in 2011 if he does. 

Mike Hall
Mike Hall

Mike has 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on sports such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the sport’s most newsworthy stories. Originally from East Yorkshire, Mike now resides in Canada, where the nearest course is less than a mile from his home. It’s there where he remains confident that, one of these days, he’ll play the 17th without finding the water. Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.