The Northern Irishman put in a confidence-boosting performance at Torrey Pines
McIlroy Reflects On “Positive” US Open Despite Another Major Near Miss
Rewind little over two months to Friday evening at Augusta National and the mystique that surrounded Rory McIlroy’s Masters prospects under the guidance of a new coach in Pete Cowen had vanished thanks to a 36-hole exit. It’s no wonder then that the Northern Irishman is taking the positives out of a US Open that he had a shot at winning with eight holes to go.
The big story coming into the week for the 32-year-old was whether or not he could overcome the first-round struggles that have blighted his major chances of late. An opening one-under 70 took care of that, before McIlroy added a battling 73 and a brilliant 67 to secure a spot in the penultimate group come Sunday.
A birdie and nine pars looked to have set the scene for another Father’s Day US Open triumph – 10 years on from his first – but it would be another near miss for the enigmatic talent who hasn’t added to his major haul since August 2014.
But this one felt different. As the dust settled on what was an excellent final-round contest, made in no small part by the presence of fans, this felt like a genuine stepping stone on the road to something greater for the World No. 10.
“Overall, it’s been a positive week,” McIlroy said. “I gave myself a great chance today.
“Even through ten holes, I was right in the thick of things. It was really two holes that sort of — yeah, it was two holes that basically stopped the sort of run at the title.
“I played well. I felt comfortable with what I was doing out there. I felt like tee to green I was really solid for the first few holes, but once I made those little mistakes on 11 and 12, I felt like I was just chasing a little bit, and then ultimately couldn’t really get anything done from there.”
Indeed, but for a careless three-putt on the 11th after an arrow-like iron to the heart of the 213-yard par-3 green, and a bad break on the 12th when his ball ended up plugged an inch from the back lip of a greenside bunker, it could’ve been a different story.
That those were the margins, though, is testament to the off-course work that’s been done with Cowen, a coach whose stock continues to grow into his 70s.
And was McIlroy surprised by the quick turnaround in form? “No, I feel like with me it’s just subtle tweaks here and there.
“It sometimes feels further away than it actually is, but as I said, going from walking away Friday night from Augusta to basically being right in the thick of things in the back nine of the U.S. Open, it hasn’t felt like it’s been a quick turnaround, but I definitely, I keep saying, I’m on the right path.
“I feel way more comfortable with what I’m doing out on the course, especially in a situation like this. You’re trying to win a major championship on a Sunday.
“The way I hit the ball tee to green out there today, I just felt much more comfortable and in control of everything than the previous few times that I’ve been in this position.
“I think the best way to describe it is I think the last few times I’ve been in this sort of position, I’ve went out on Sunday hoping to play well, where I feel like now I know what to do to play well and I know I have the tools to play well, and it’s just a matter of execution and sticking to what I’ve been working on.
“It was way better today. The score doesn’t suggest it. There was two holes that really, as I said, were the end of my title hopes, but apart from that this week, it’s been really positive.”
In the end, McIlroy came up five shots shy of Jon Rahm, who produced another epic 18th-hole scene in a US Open at Torrey Pines to eclipse Louis Oosthuizen by one shot and land what is surely the first of many major titles.
It was made all the more impressive given his preparation was thwarted by what happened two weeks ago when he was withdrawn from the Memorial Tournament after testing positive for Covid-19 with one round to go and a six-shot lead in his possession.
Such a recovery came as no surprise to McIlroy, however, who said: “He’s won two tournaments in a row. I don’t care what anyone says. He had that title.
“It was unfortunate at the end of the day, but he’s been playing some really, really good golf. Mentally, I think you have to be in a good place to bounce back from something like that, but he obviously knew his game was there, and he just had to go out and play the way he knows he can.
“And he’s obviously had success here at this golf course. I don’t think there’s a golf course where he can’t have success on. He’s that good of a player. He was a major champion in waiting. It was just a matter of time.”