Rory McIlroy’s brutal US Open loss

Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt late in the U.S. Open’s final round at Pinehurst No. 2. (Stan Gilliland)

Against all odds, Rory McIlroy managed to tame Pinehurst.

It wasn’t enough.


All week long, golfers had talked about the native grass areas on either side of the fairways and the domed greens that sent shots that landed near the pin on long rolling journeys into the sand.

For 69 holes, McIlroy had managed to avoid disaster and entered the 16th hole on Sunday with a one-stroke lead.

He spelled out his game plan early in the week.

“I would say embracing the difficult conditions,” he said. “Embracing the style of golf needed to contend at a U.S. Open. Embracing patience. … Explosiveness isn’t going to win a U.S. Open. It’s more methodically building your score over the course of four days and being okay with that.”

McIlroy had done just that. He led after Thursday’s play, shooting a 65 to open the tournament. On day two, he was two strokes back, and lurked three strokes off the lead heading into the final day.

He made his move on Sunday, passing Bryson DeChambeau into the lead and closing in on his first U.S. Open title since 2011.

“When I turned the corner and saw I was a couple back, I said, ‘Nope, I’m not going to let that happen,’” said DeChambeau. “I have to focus on figuring out how to make this happen.”

In the end, however, it wasn’t any adjustment DeChambeau made to stop the bleeding, nor was it Pinehurst rising up to claim a victim. McIlroy continued as he had all along. His first shot on 16 landed in the middle of the fairway, causing the television announcing crew to declare his week “just a driving clinic.”

Two shots later, he had a four-foot putt for par, which would have taken another hole off the board and another big step toward the trophy.

As hard as the greens were to reach, he was there. For the week up until that point, he’d had 49 putts of five feet or less and made them all.

“Just a very well-played hole,” said the announcers on the TV broadcast as McIlroy lined up his shot.

The putt was on target, rolled around the rim of the hole, and kept going, off to the right. The ensuing bogey put him in a tie with DeChambeau.

On 17, he landed in the bunker, but McIlroy managed to survive it to salvage par. On 18, he took a detour through the native grass to retrieve an errant tee shot, but he recovered to get the ball on the green, once again four feet from the hole with a short putt for par.

He was now 50 for 51 on the week, after knocking in a short putt to finish 17. And for the second time in the final three holes, his putt was on target, then spun mockingly around the rim of the hole. This time, it went off to the left.

If just one of the two putts had fallen in, McIlroy would have been up a stroke, meaning DeChambeau’s bunker shot would have been for survival, not victory. Instead, the door was left open for a hero to step through, and DeChambeau buried his opportunity.

With every miracle shot to win, there’s the poor soul who had victory snatched away. For every GOAT performance, a goat is also named.

Just like that, Rory McIlroy went from being four-time major winner to someone who hasn’t won the big one in a decade.

“At the end of the day we are all human,” said Mattieu Pavon, who opened the day tied with McIlroy and finished in fifth, two strokes behind him. “\It shows you how tough it is. The more you want it, the tougher it gets, and the highest expectation you have for yourself, the tougher it gets, the more pressure you got into. Maybe this is a little bit of pressure that got him today for sure.”

McIlroy, the man who said his approach to the tournament was “just super conservative with my strategy and my game. I think with my demeanor, just trying to be super stoic. Just trying to be as even-keeled as I possibly can be,” now faces whispers about his mental makeup. His decision to leave without doing any interviews didn’t help.

“For him to miss that putt, I’d never wish it on anybody,” said DeChambeau. “It just happened to play out that way. He’ll win multiple more major championships. There’s no doubt. I think that fire in him is going to continue to grow. I have nothing but respect for how he plays the game of golf because, to be honest, when he was climbing up the leaderboard, he was two ahead, I was like, ‘Uh-oh, uh-oh.’”

McIlroy had a good strategy and executed it well, right up until the last shot.

He’ll likely think about that last shot for a long time.

“Luckily, things went my way today,” said the winner.