Can Rory's story end well at TCC?

Shadows of Southern Hills linger for now

Can Rory’s story end well

Can Rory's story end well
(Chris Keane/USGA)

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BROOKLINE, MA. Here we go again. Rory McIlroy got off to a good start at this week’s U.S. Open at The Country Club with a fine three-under-par round of 67 and being just one shot off the lead. Keep in mind, this is the same McIlroy who opened with a 65 during the first round at the PGA Championship played last month at Southern Hills.

Can Rory’s story end well

McIlroy came to the Boston area with a quality win at last week’s Canadian Open. As has been said numerous time — the Ulsterman has not won a major championship since 2014 when he claimed his second PGA title at Valhalla.

“Yeah, a really solid start. You’d take 67 around this golf course any day. Even though I’m standing up here slightly frustrated that I bogeyed the last, it’s a great start to the tournament. I felt like I did most things well today. I certainly putted well, and I hit the ball in the right spots, and I hit a lot of greens, gave myself plenty of chances. Just basically did everything that you need to do at a U.S. Open. Yeah, overall, really pleased about the start. That’s now two majors in a row that I’ve started well, and hopefully just keep going from here.”

Can Rory’s story end well

As McIlroy outlined — getting off to a good start has been accomplished. The bigger question mark is can the 33-year-old carry that momentum further. At Southern Hills — the third world ranked player went into reverse and was out of the picture fairly quickly.

The Boston area is home to plenty of Irish expats and Rory clearly has a deep fan base in the immediate region. 

Moving off four majors has been a long slog for him and being asked again and again about it only elevates the pressure points in finally doing so.

Can Rory’s story end well

In the midst of competing for a major championship, McIlroy has been the lead cheerleader for the PGA Tour in its ongoing tussle with the LIV Tour. Rory has been very clear that his main driving point is to win majors and establish a legacy that will include him among the finest players ever to hit a golf ball.

“I think my stance on it has been pretty clear from the start,” said McIlroy. “It’s not something that I want to participate in. I certainly understand the guys that have went. I understand what their goals and their ambitions are in their life. And I’m certainly not knocking anyone for going. It’s their life, it’s their decision. They can live it the way they want to.”

Can Rory’s story end well

At his post round press conference — he was clear on where his mind is at now.

“It’s been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to get my hands on one again.”

Legacy — for McIlroy it’s not a talking point but an article of faith in how he wants to be viewed.

McIlroy claimed his first U.S. Open title in 2011 with a record wire-to-wire triumph at Congressional. In the three years that followed — he bagged three additional majors by the age of 25. The rocket was lifting off but somehow stalled in making a permanent orbit in the years that followed.

Going this long without another has forestalled the march to being clearly viewed as the best player within golf. Others have sought to grab the headlines and Rory has had to watch players such as Jordan Spieth emerge in 2015 and then the ascension of Dustin Johnson and Brook Koepka in the years that followed.

Can Rory's story end well
(Jeff Haynes/USGA)

Can Rory’s story end well

When he claimed the Canadian Open there was a moment deep into the back nine during the final round when his putter betrayed him on crucial putts and opened up the door for his closest pursuers Justin Thomas and Tony Finau to hope that a win could be snatched from Rory.

McIlroy ended all doubt with two final hole birdies and the sense of pride in the achievement was evident.

No one has to tell Rory that U.S. Opens are not won in the first round but they can be quickly lost when slow starts happen.

“You feel like you’re right in the tournament from the start of the week, which is nice. I’m going into tomorrow with the mindset of let’s keep it going, rather than where is the cut line or whatever, if you don’t get off to a great start those thoughts start to creep in, okay, what do I need to just be here for the weekend. It’s certainly a different mindset when you get off to a good start, and yeah, I’ve just got to keep it going.”

The memories of Southern Hills will be there until he dispels them. The Country Club is a storied golf venue and if dry conditions take place during the weekend the demands will only intensify as they always do for a U.S. Open title.

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Can Rory’s story end well

McIlroy has been dubbed by some as the “conscience of golf” but he clarifies that he has always been upfront on where he stands and wants to secure additional majors that will prove the kind of talents he possesses.

“I’m just being me. I’m living my life. I’m doing what I think is right and trying to play the best golf that I possibly can. I wasn’t asked to be put here. I wasn’t trying to be in this position. I’m just being me.”

U.S. Opens are difficult tests — physically and also mentally. During the first round, McIlroy showed emotion when encountering a demanding ball position at the 5th .

“I was sort of cursing the USGA whenever I was going up to the ball, and then yeah, but it’s one of those things it happens here, it doesn’t really happen anywhere else. You just have to accept it. I gave the sand a couple of whacks because I’d already messed it up so it wasn’t like it was much more work for Harry, and then I just reset and played a decent bunker shot, and then it was really nice to hole that putt.”

Can Rory’s story end well

Grinding things out will be front and center over the final 54 holes for all the contestants.

Rory’s story has been evolving on a number of fronts. The PGA Tour / LIV battle will be an ongoing matter. But, make no mistake about it — McIlroy has his focus squarely centered. Winning majors define history — not simply going for cash grabs. The remaining three rounds will show how much Rory has grown since the meltdown at the PGA Championship.

New chapters in his story will be added this week. The key will be if Rory can successfully write them at The Country Club. Eight years is a long time at coming up empty handed with a major victory. The clock is ticking and no one knows that better than Mr. McIlroy.

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