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Rory fails to find sparkle as hopes of US Open glory are crushed

 

By Adam McKendry

The questions were raised when Rory McIlroy said he was going to try and plot his way around Shinnecock Hills - not about the plan, but the ability of the execution.

Long has McIlroy's strength been his power, when he can overwhelm a golf course by brute strength, crushing drives close to the green and relying on the occasional wedge to give himself a tap-in birdie.

So when the World No.6 said on Wednesday he was going to take irons off the tee and lay up a bit more, the sceptics began to write.

The plan was right. The execution, as so many feared, was not.

Too many irons off the tee found the famously thick US Open rough, an absolute no-no if you want to shoot well in a tournament that tests both your mental and physical ability. That was his first flaw.

After that, he settled into the same struggles that every other golfer in the field - bar the utterly exceptional Dustin Johnson - had.

The rock hard greens. The unforgiving undulations of the fairways. The brutal first cut of rough that resembled the thickest stuff you'd find on your local course.

The damage was done on Thursday, make no doubt about that. While yesterday's round of 70 still left plenty to be desired, it was much better, it was just too late to repair a ship that had already taken on so much water it needed divine intervention to save it after that ugly 10-over 80 on Thursday.

In fact, the back nine of his second round was impressive.

Sure, the front nine wasn't great, but everyone's cards had bogeys.

The only problem is that the bogeys were avoidable.

A three-putt at the vicious par-three second will have badly hurt given he found the dancefloor with his tee shot.

That was followed up with another at the par-three seventh, where this time the tee shot wasn't the standard required but still should have yielded at least a par.

As for the ninth, the rough shattered any hopes of a par, both off the tee and with a woefully short approach. Double bogey.

And yet, as McIlroy always seems to do, he provided so much hope going forward on that glittering back nine.

He still has those quality shots to pull out of his repertoire, we know that all too well, and he showcased it with two excellent approaches at 11 and 13 for much-needed birdies, and then added birdies on the 16th and 17th for good measure.

But it's still a third missed cut in a row at a US Open for the Ulsterman. As well as Shinnecock Hills, another set of hills named Erin and Oakmont Country Club have bested him, and thoroughly so.

The Masters is the one he wants to win so badly, of course, but this will sting too. For a player of his standard, he needs to win Majors, and his duck now stands at four years.

The Open is next, a tournament he has historically done well in. You can't help but think he needs a big result at Carnoustie.

The rounds of the day went to Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka, whose incredible rounds of four-under 66 have taken them right into contention, with Dustin Johnson's 67 keeping him at the top.

Ian Poulter added a two-over 72 to his opening round of 69 to put himself firmly in the mix for the title, while Scott Piercy is going along nicely at level.

Tiger Woods missed the cut on 10-over, while McIlroy's playing partner Jordan Spieth bogeyed the 18th to miss the cut by one stroke.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell resumed US Open business with a level-par 70 in the morn­ing showers, however it wasn't enough to avoid an early exit.

At nine-over par, the Portrush native (38) was bracing himself for the disappointment of missing the cut, although missing out by one shot will hurt.

A 32-putt round would not nor­mally give him reason to be cheerful but, after the carnage of day one, he was pleased to remind himself that he really is playing well and hadn't quite been "US Open-ed" - the phrase used to describe the mental torture that even top PGA Tour professionals endure in mid-June ever year.

"If I had gone out and shot an­other 75 or something today I would have left here very disappointed because my game is in good shape at the minute," Ulsterman McDowell said after his round.

"So that was pleasing to do as well as I did, especially on that back nine. If it misses, it misses. Fine. At least I know I am still hitting it well.

"Thankfully, I have managed to play decent tee to green and not get US Open-ed and walk away thinking I am not playing well."

Belfast Telegraph

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