Major McIlroy meltdown

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M. James Ward outlines how Rory's story just got more complicated and if the talented player can recover from the Pinehurst implosion.
Posted on
June 17, 2024
by
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

PINEHURST, NC. Majors are defining legacy championships that cement one's position in golf. While the victories are celebrated it is the losses – the tough ones especially – that forever linger in one's personal memory and to those following the sport closely.

For Rory McIlroy his early successes in winning majors – four by the age of 25 - put him on a pathway where comparisons to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods were made.

After that burst of stellar play – McIlroy has now seen his four-major total remain in the same position for nearly ten years now.

The meltdown at Pinehurst at the 124th US Open was the most debilitating defeat he has endured. The Northern Irishman played superbly in the middle of the final round with four birdies in a span of five holes. That momentum placed him two shots clear of Bryson DeChambeau with just four holes to play.

Then the roof crashed hard.

Rory McIlroy
(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

A poor club selection at the par-3 15th resulted in him going off the back of the gren and resulted in a bogey. Matters went off the rails with a three-putt at the long par-4 16th. The final missed putt coming from within four feet - his first error from within five feet during the championship.

Rory then missed the green left at the demanding par-3 17th but his bunker shot was played well to just a few feet and he left with par.

At the closing hole he tugged his tee shot left into the native area and with a lie that was passable but hardly good he chunked his approach just short of the green. A deft chip to roughly three feet left for par would likely have ensured McIlroy a playoff position at minimum. However, his putt failed to account for the left-to-right break and the resulting bogey provided DeChambeau an opportunity to cement his second victory in the US Open.

McIlroy watched the ending from a television monitor and when it was clear he would not be hoisting the US Open trophy for a second time – the first coming in 2011 - he bolted from the property with his entourage.

124th US Open at Pinehurst No.2

Clearly, Rory was in no mood to deal with the bombardment of questions he would invariably need to answer.

There have been tough defeats in Rory's career but the situation at Pinehurst goes beyond the others.

McIlroy had secured the lead late in the final round and he could not finish matters off. That memory will be in his head until he can erase it. His rivals also know that in big-time spots there will be lingering questions on how Rory will handle such matters when the circumstances arise again.

Three bogeys in the final four holes will never win a major championship when the outcome is that narrow between players.

DeChambeau was ripe for the taking as his driver was consistently off target and he was only able to make two birdies for the round against three bogeys.

To Bryson's credit he finished off matters with a superb closing par after his tee shot found the left native area. He was only able to advance the ball to a bunker leaving 55 yards to the hole. His shot from that distance was nothing short of fantastic and he finished off matters with a winning putt from four feet.

Rory McIlroy had to wait one year after finishing second in the 2023 US Open to Wyndham Clark. His opening 65 at Pinehurst No.2 propelled him right into the hunt.

Interestingly, the 35-year-old has been in the top ten for every US Open since 2019 but his major-less skid continues.

He also has 21 top ten finishes in major events since his last victory at the PGA Championship in 2014. No other player has more than him over that time frame.

Rory has played in 62 total majors and finished in the top ten in exactly half of them. He has finished in the top five no less than 18 times. The consistency is certainly noteworthy.

But finishing off tournaments is the ultimate barometer in assessing true greatness. It is that consummate skill that elevated the likes of Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

The talent McIlroy possesses is apparent to anyone with eyes to see. But those same eyes also see a golfer who, for whatever the reason, makes critical execution errors that will always stand in the way in securing such championships.

Rory McIlroy came second at the 2024 US Open
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

McIlroy is still in the prime of his career and it's likely he will have upwards of 40 more majors to play in the years ahead. But the winless streak is like an increasing anchor weight around his neck. The questions will only become more and more difficult to answer. Rory will need to face the music as best as he can.

Should his four major total remain in place when his career concludes it's very possible he will merit consideration as the greatest underachiever in golf history- notwithstanding Greg Norman.

To his credit, Rory has shown the wherewithal to overcome bitter setbacks. When he threw away the 2011 Masters, he came back just two months later to win the US Open by eight shots with a record four-round total. The last major for 2024 will be played in just over a month's time at The Open Championship at Royal Troon.

The shadows of Pinehurst will be long and dark.

Until further notice - no glory for Rory remains his unflattering storyline.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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