Rory McIlroy’s US Open victory was always on cards
Rory McIlroy’s four scorecards from the Congressional read like a blueprint for the perfect way to set about winning a major.
And not just any major as the USGA usually goes out of its way to protect par at the US Open. McIlroy made a complete nonsense of that as he ripped the place apart over the last four days.
His first round 65 — as Phil Mickelson’s caddie Bones Mackay said in awe — was just about the perfect round to open a major championship.
It took McIlroy just three holes to slip into red figures on Thursday as he tackled the harder back nine first. He made a mockery of the monster par four closing hole, covering its 520 yards in two huge blows to hit the top of the leader board at three under.
In all, round one yielded six birdies and no dropped shots, arguably a better opening card than his seven under in the first round at Augusta.
Two figures leap off Rory’s second round card — a two and a six.
For 17 holes it was as close to golfing perfection as anyone had seen at a US Open since Tiger Woods won by 15 shots in 2000.
To pencil in a two on a par four is always something special — and usually a little lucky — but his wedge approach from 118 yards was going nowhere other than the hole once it had started to spin from the back of the green.
The six was an ugly blemish, caused really by his desire to keep birdie hunting despite that rarest of things on the first two days, a missed fairway. With water guarding the 18th green, it wasn’t the smartest call.
But he showed he had learned that lesson for Saturday’s third round. Arguably the most important number he wrote on that card was the four he marked beside the third hole.
Faced with the choice of a tough approach to the green from the right rough, instead he chipped it out sideways then played a sublime pitch to a couple of feet for a par save that announced to the rest of the field that the back nine at the Masters was long forgotten.
The bogey four he made on the tenth was Saturday’s sole blemish — and even then he was immediately able to mark in a birdie three to make up for it on the very next hole. 68 blows with the pressure mounting.
Rory could not have written a better script than to have a birdie three at his opening hole in round four just to let the field know that this time it was going to be a very different story.
His excellence has been noted by golfing luminaries of the past and present, with Padraig Harrington yesterday remarking: “If you are going to talk about someone challenging Jack's record, there's your man.
“Winning Majors at 22 with his talent, he would have 20 more years, so probably 100 more majors where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance.”
Meanwhile, Nicklaus himself commented: “I hadn't seen him since the Masters.
“I just said: ‘I'm sure that you learned from your mistakes and what happened. Don't worry about that. We all make mistakes. All good players have to make mistakes before they can have successes'.”
Graeme McDowell, the man de-throned as US Open champion by his fellow Ulsterman, said: “He's phenomenal, with the way he bounced back from Augusta. For any kids sitting watching at home right now, he's playing golf the way it should be played.”
Ernie Els was similarly effusive in his praise.
“He can really change history again,” said the South African.
“He has got that kind of talent. When he breaks through, he can just open the floodgates.
“If he keeps learning and keeps going and keeps his head up, I think he's going to win a lot of Majors.”
Next year’s US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III said that McIlroy’s maturity had played a key role in his success.
“I think he's about 27 in golf years,” he explained.
“He's very polished on experience. When I was 22, I didn't have the wealth of experience he has. I don't think we have seen a rookie come out with his composure and be ready to play on our tour right away like he is.”
Lee Westwood added: “When he plays well, he's capable of shooting low scores. If they make the golf courses longer, it will be 8,000 yards next year. We have Rory to thank for that.”
Brandt Snedeker joked: “Everybody would agree he has probably got more talent in his pinky than I have in my whole body. He is unbelievably talented.”
Tiger Woods’ ex-coach Butch Harmon said: “He has put on a clinic in how to play golf”, while “He has lapped the field” was former world number two Colin Montgomerie’s succint but thoroughly appropriate surmisal.