BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. Three of the heavyweights in the game sit near the top of the US Open leaderboard.
There’s Colin Morikawa trying to capture the third stage of a Grand Slam at the age of 25.
There is Jon Ram, the defending champion who seems intent on retaining the trophy.
And there’s Scotty Scheffler, the Masters champion and No. 1 ranked world number one, eager for more.
All three are 27 years old or younger. All three have won major certifications in the past 12 months. All three play with strong confidence and youthful freedom.
Then there’s the old man in the group, Rory McIlroy, now 33 and the mop-haired boy no longer running rough on the sport.
When McIlroy last won a major championship, in 2014, Ram was a rookie at Arizona State. The other budding stars were in high school. It felt like longer. Despite all that McIlroy has accomplished since then – world number one, FedExCup titles, Player of the Year award – he has faced nothing but frustration in the biggest of action. His less dehydration, now 28 and still, included seven of the top 5 but also a string of headaches. Slow starts. Shuffle collapses. put iron.
This is what made his first two courses around The Country Club so promising.
Full field scores from the US Open
slow start? Not this time. Opening with 67 sitting one shot. In all of his four major wins, he was no worse than fourth after the opening round.
confusing breakdown? Not this time. On Friday, he made three straw hacks near the third green, looking like he was about to wipe out his open show. Instead, he managed to get 30 feet for a double bogey, then spent the rest of the day making up the shortfall — and then some.
and balky mode? Not this time. He had 4.34 hits on the Greens in the first round, his best major throwing performance since 2015. Overall, he leads the field in shooting. Sorry, let’s write that again: Rory McIlroy leads the field in throwing the ball. This is terrifying news for the other contenders.
Then he said, “I’m in a good place.” “I’m really happy with where my game is, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
No player in the top 20 on the leaderboard has the bona fides of McElroy, but they don’t have recent scar tissue either. And so he was asked how he reconciles that – his main positive memories are buried (at least by his lofty standards) and a negative reality.
“I think I have to come out with the mindset that I’m going to try to win for the first time again,” McIlroy said. “I play golf as well as I’ve played for a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won major tournaments, but just because I’ve done it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to hit better golf or I’m going to hit better golf.”
Although he was a runaway winner in Congress in 2011, McIlroy had a love-hate affair with our National Championship: four lost cuts with four of the top 10, including three in a row. This trend line improvement can be attributed to more patience, more discipline, and more acceptance. It can be attributed to more maturity, sharper iron play, and better posture. It might have been better statistically in 2012 or ’14 or ’19, but it’s never been that good. That’s why he didn’t feel overwhelmed because he went out on Friday.
“I knew I was going to take chances, so I didn’t panic,” he said. I didn’t do anything stupid. I did not force anything. I’ve been rewarded with that patience by playing a really good nine defense.”
McIlroy may have made two poor swings that cost him three hits, but he also made a lot of good swings that gave him a second turn 69, making him a one-off dip. He is 4-years-old under 136.
“Today was a really good example of just having good behaviour,” he said.
Morikawa is the owner of the highest leaderboard. Ram one back. And Scheffler sits behind him with another bullet.
In a battle with the biggest names in the game, McIlroy doesn’t need to be reminded of what’s at stake.
He said, “It’s been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to get my hands on it again.”