Can Rory's story end in glory?

150th Open Championship

Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

Open 2022 - Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Viktor Hovland of Norway shake hands following their round (Stuart Kerr/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


St. Andrews, Scotland. In near total darkness in August 2014 Rory McIlroy capped a superb summer of world class golf capturing the final two majors of that year — the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

The swift ascension up the golfing ladder had him match what only Jack Nicklaus and his idol Tiger Woods had done — win four majors by the age of 25. The sky appeared limitless for McIlroy and many even opined he had the wherewithal to be on a Woods trajectory of greatness.


Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

Fast forward nearly eight years and the major championship total for McIlroy remains fixed on the number four. The Ulsterman is hoping that dubious streak will end Sunday during the final round of the 150th Open Championship.

Rory is tied after 54 holes with Viktor Hovland and the two were paired for the third round, each finishing the day in 66 strokes. Neither man blinked — both determined to remain in the thick of things. Both wanting to hear the magic words that conclude an Open — the “champion golfer of the year is …”

The expectations for McIlroy were sky high when claiming his second PGA Championship in 2014. He has finished in the top ten 16 times in the various majors since — including the first three majors this year.

***

Tournament20072008200920102011201220132014
Masters TournamentT20CUTT15T40T25T8
U.S. OpenT10CUT1CUTT41T23
The Open ChampionshipT42*T47T3T25T60CUT1
PGA ChampionshipT3T3T641T81

*Low Amateur

20152016201720182019202020212022
Masters Tournament4T10T7T5T21T5CUT2
U.S. OpenT9CUTCUTCUTT9T8T7T5
The Open ChampionshipT5T4T2CUT**T46
PGA Championship17CUTT22T50T8T33T498

** The 2020 Open did not take place

***

No one needs to explain to the 33-year-old that performances in major championships are what sets the definition of greatness in golf. Legacies are clearly front and center.

The final round on the Old Course could well be the launching pad in climbing back to the top of the golf pecking order. The stakes on Sunday are that high — and no one knows that better than him. Rory is intent on focusing on the task ahead by concentrating and staying in the present moment.


Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

“I just have to just stick to my game plan, stick to the process. The more people bring up the result, the more I’m just going to harp on about process and sticking to my game plan, because that’s the only thing I can do, and I’ve done that well for the last three days. And it’s put me in this position. I just need to do it for one more day,” said McIlroy.

***

The third round featured a hole out for eagle at the par-4 10th and his lone bogey came at the treacherous Road Hole where he was most fortunate that his approach shot did not nestle too close to the stone wall. McIlroy ended the day with a closing birdie after a fine two putt from the front of the short par-4 closer.

The gallery has been vocal in their support of McIlroy. They are aware of the talents Rory possesses and want to push him onto victory and a second Open title. But for him the key will be staying focused on what lies ahead for Sunday.

“The support that I’ve gotten this week has been absolutely incredible. I appreciate it and I feel it out there. But at the same time, I’m trying my hardest just to stay in my own little world because that’s the best way for me to get the best out of myself.


Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

“I try to acknowledge as much as I can but I’m just trying to stay in my process, stay in my own little bubble and I just have to do that for one more day.”

McIlroy is well aware his superb play during the third round now takes him into the ultimate cauldron — final rounds during major championships. The stakes are high — the pressure will be front and center.

McIlroy has shown discipline throughout his play — keeping a firm grip on what shots have the best percentages of success. He will face a young and up and coming player in Hovland — much like himself when he began the climb up the golfing ladder to superstardom.

His resoluteness for the task he faces Sunday was laser-like in its directness. 

***

“I’m playing a golf tournament and I’ve got myself in a great position after three days. I finished off enough golf tournaments in my time to feel like I know what to do tomorrow.”

***

Final rounds in major championships can be totally unpredictable. This is especially so with links golf where a favorable bounce can help an errant shot and where an unfavorable bounce can ruin what appeared to be a good shot. McIlroy has played the Old Course numerous times over the years and is confident in his abilities and the mental toughness it will require for ultimate success.

“I think it’s appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it’s unbelievably cool to have a chance to win The Open at St Andrews. It’s what dreams are made of. And I’m going to try to make a dream come true tomorrow.”

Getting to five majors would tie him with Spain’s Seve Ballesteros and could be the springboard for him to reach even greater heights. But McIlroy is quick to play down all the talk of what can be and stay grounded.

***

Read next

Cazoo Open R3

Tours
By M. James Ward

“Going all the way back to Augusta in 2011, I got out of my process. I got out of what I did for three days and it was a tough lesson. It was a really tough pill to swallow. And I went to Congressional, and that’s all I focused on all week. I sort of called it my little cocoon, just trying to stay in my little cocoon for the whole week. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do this week as well.”

***

McIlroy and Hovland are four ahead of their closest other pursuers in Cameron Smith and Cameron Young with Si Woo Kim and Scottie Scheffler another shot back. Those trailing will need to make a move quickly but McIlroy is acutely aware he has the game to finally end the nearly eight-year-old winless streak in major championship play.

Viktor Hovland (Stuart Franklin/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

“People can go out and 30, 31, whatever it is. I think for me it’s expect the unexpected. But at the same time, I have to focus on myself. If I go out and I post a good number, I can’t worry about if it’s Viktor or if it’s the two Camerons, if it’s whoever it is. I just have to do my thing. And I’ve been doing my thing for the last three days and it’s put me in a good position.”

Going from a third round into a final round — the intensity meter will be off the charts. The crowd buzzing — the anticipation of what might happen. McIlroy realizes he will need to play another round of comparable score to what he shot on Saturday. The competition will be keen — since only one man will take home the Claret Jug.

“So, I’m not going to take anything for granted. I don’t feel like I can fall back in any sort of experience. Just like being here before and I’ve done it. But nothing’s given to you and I have to go out there and earn it just like I’ve earned everything else in my career.”

Open 2022 - Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy (Stuart Kerr/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Open 2022 – Rory McIlroy

Winning an Open is always special — but doing so at The Old Course for the 150th commemoration of the championship takes that accomplishment to another level. When McIlroy won four majors by 25 years of age he was in company with Nicklaus and Woods. Joining them as winners at The Old Course would be a shot in the arm for a career that once held such great promise and can jumpstart that in a big time manner with a win. 

McIlroy’s moment is now at hand. Can he see it through to completion?

Sunday’s round will be most telling on that front.  

Share this article