Rory McIlroy shows real steel to stay at the business end of US Open

Early double-bogey failed to put four-time Major winner off course as he recovered to card a 69

At this stage of his golfing life, Rory McIlroy – more than anyone – knows that nothing comes easy or can be taken for granted. He was only three holes into the second round of the 122nd US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, in the Boston suburbs, when an encounter with ugly, deep rough threatened to derail his quest for a fifth career Major.

McIlroy’s plight was akin to that experienced by club hackers week-in and week-out, where the ball stubbornly refused to do as willed.

In his case, the first recovery effort – after his approach plunged into the high greenside rough – moved the ball a couple of feet; his next, a couple of inches if any. It took an almighty swipe with his third recovery to get it on to the green, where he salvaged matters somewhat by sinking a 23-footer for a double-bogey six.

It was then that McIlroy rolled up his sleeves and showed what he was made of. No whinging, no moaning. If the first task of many potential winners of this toughest examination in golf is to avoid any high numbers, the Northern Irishman’s response showed his mental fortitude as he recovered to post a fine second-round 69 for 136, four under par, that saw him sit one shot adrift of midway leaders Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.

McIlroy’s poor start at the third – “I got it in in the least amount of strokes possible on that hole after what happened … I didn’t panic. I didn’t do anything stupid. I didn’t force anything. I was rewarded with that patience,” he said – was followed by a mainly controlled and patient round, one that ultimately yielded five birdies (three of them in the last six holes), two bogeys and so that the double-bogey was a thorn that hadn’t inflicted the damage it may have done as he worked his way back into contention in his bid to win a first Major since the 2014 US PGA.

“I think I have to go out with the mindset this week that I’m going to try to win my first [Major] again. I’m playing as good a golf as I’ve played in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won Major championships and other big events, but, just because I’ve done that, it doesn’t mean that I’ll hit better golf shots or I’ll hit better putts.

“I’m in a good place. I’m really happy with where my game is at, and I think that’s the most important thing,” said McIlroy, fresh off a win in the Canadian Open last week.

Séamus Power – who has taken to the Majors like a duck would to water – again displaying great craft and indeed patience in a round of 70 for a 36-holes total of 141 which had him tied-31st, six shots behind co-leaders Morikawa and Dahmen. But Shane Lowry, who had looked set to make the cut when he finished with back to back 72s for 144, missed out by one stroke after the wind died and the cut came on three-over 143.

Morikawa may have claimed to be out of sorts in form earlier this week in somewhat discounting his chances, although his play made a lie of those words. The current holder of the Claret Jug would complete three steps of four in the Grand Slam equation with a win here, and a second-round 66 for five-under-par 135 put him into a strong position to attempt it.

Of getting the more favourable part of the draw, Morikawa conceded: “I think we got kind of a good draw out of it. A lot of the day kind of calmed down, was really nice, really sunny. Fairways are bouncy, and you’ve got to keep it in the fairways out here. You can play out of the first cut, but you get five, six, seven yards off the fairway, you’re going to be trying to run up to greens, and sometimes you can’t do that out here.

But for the most part the greens are still receptive. There was probably two or three greens out here that are getting a little bouncy, and you really have to make sure you hit your spots. But for the most part if you’re playing out of the fairway, you have a good shot at staying somewhat aggressive to some of these pins.”

A big move was also made by Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who – like Power and Lowry – got the tougher part of the late-early Thursday-Friday draw. Scheffler shot a second-round 67 for 137 to get right into the mix in tied-eighth, two shots behind the pacesetters.

“I just stayed really patient. I was hitting it good pretty much most of the day. I had two silly bogeys early in the round, but outside of that I hit it really good. I was in position most of the day. If a few more putts would have fallen in versus around the edge, it would have been a really special day. But three under was a good score for me, especially being two over through six,” said Scheffler.

The eagle provided the standout moment, albeit of the fortunate variety after his approach hit a tree and fell down into the rough some 50 yards short of the green. “I had a good lie, hit a good chop and it went in,” said Scheffler, proving that a little luck is needed by everyone.

Leaderboard

USA unless stated, Par 70, (a) denotes amateurs

135 Collin Morikawa 69 66, Joel Dahmen 67 68

136 Aaron Wise 68 68, Beau Hossler 69 67, Hayden Buckley 68 68, Jon Rahm (Esp) 69 67, Rory McIlroy (N Irl) 67 69

137 Brian Harman 68 69, Matthew NeSmith 68 69, Nick Hardy 69 68, Patrick Rodgers 69 68, Scottie Scheffler 70 67

138 Adam Hadwin (Can) 66 72, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 68 70, Sam Burns 71 67

139 Callum Tarren (Eng) 67 72, David Lingmerth (Swe) 67 72, Davis Riley 72 67, Keegan Bradley 70 69, M. J. Daffue (Rsa) 67 72, (a) Travis Vick 70 69, Will Zalatoris 69 70, Xander Schauffele 70 69

140 Adam Schenk 70 70, Andrew Putnam 72 68, Brandon Matthews 71 69, Brooks Koepka 73 67, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 70 70, Joo-Hyung Kim (Kor) 72 68, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 72 68

141 Dustin Johnson 68 73, Joaquin Niemann (Chi) 71 70, Justin Rose (Eng) 68 73, Justin Thomas 69 72, Mackenzie Hughes (Can) 72 69, Marc Leishman (Aus) 70 71, Patrick Reed 70 71, Séamus Power (Irl) 71 70, Sebastian Soederberg (Swe) 71 70

142 Adam Scott (Aus) 69 73, (a) Austin Greaser 72 70, Bryson DeChambeau 71 71, Cameron Tringale 71 71, Chris Gotterup 73 69, Chris Naegel 73 69, Gary Woodland 69 73, Grayson Murray 75 67, Guido Migliozzi (Ita) 72 70, Harris English 73 69, Jordan Spieth 72 70, Max Homa 69 73, Richard Bland (Eng) 70 72, Todd Sinnott (Aus) 71 71, Wil Besseling (Ned) 71 71

143 Denny McCarthy 73 70, Joseph Bramlett 71 72, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor) 71 72, Min-Woo Lee (Aus) 73 70, Patrick Cantlay 72 71, (a) Sam Bennett 70 73, Samuel Stevens 71 72, Sebastian Munoz (Col) 74 69, (a) Stewart Hagestad 73 70, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 72 71

Missed cut

144 Billy Horschel 73 71, Cameron Young 72 72, Corey Conners (Can) 71 73, Erik Barnes 71 73, Guillermo Mito Pereira (Chi) 70 74, James Piot 69 75, Jason Kokrak 69 75, Jim Furyk 74 70, Kalle Samooja (Fin) 77 67, Kevin Kisner 73 71, Matt McCarty 71 73, Sergio Garcia (Esp) 74 70, Shane Lowry (Irl) 72 72, Stewart Cink 73 71, Sung Jae Im (Kor) 72 72, Webb Simpson 70 74, Wyndham Clark 70 74

145 Benjamin Silverman (Can) 72 73, Branden Grace (Rsa) 76 69, Brian Stuard 73 72, Chan Kim 73 72, Daniel Berger 70 75, Harold Varner III 72 73, Kevin Na 75 70, Luke List 72 73, Nick Taylor (Can) 73 72, Ryan Fox (Nzl) 74 71, Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 74 71, Si Woo Kim (Kor) 76 69, Talor Gooch 74 71, Taylor Montgomery 72 73, Tom Hoge 73 72, Tony Finau 73 72

146 Alexander Noren (Swe) 73 73, Cameron Smith (Aus) 72 74, Davis Shore 74 72, Francesco Molinari (Ita) 73 73, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 77 69, (a) Michael Thorbjornsen 77 69, Roger Sloan (Can) 76 70, Russell Henley 76 70, Sam Horsfield (Eng) 73 73, Scott Stallings 74 72, Troy Merritt 75 71

147 Adria Arnaus (Esp) 76 71, (a) Adrien Dumont (Bel) 72 75, Andrew Novak 73 74, Bo Hoag 72 75, Jonas Blixt (Swe) 75 72, Kurt Kitayama 74 73, Lanto Griffin 72 75, (a) Maxwell Moldovan 75 72, Ryan Gerard 74 73, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 72 75, Victor Perez (Fra) 73 74, Viktor Hovland (Nor) 70 77

148 (a) Keita Nakajima (Jpn) 73 75, Patton Kizzire 74 74, Rikuya Hoshino (Jpn) 77 71, Shaun Norris (Rsa) 70 78

149 Andrew Beckler 78 71, Brady Calkins 76 73, Chase Seiffert 74 75, Kevin Chappell 73 76, Sepp Straka (Aut) 77 72, (a) William Mouw 75 74

150 Daijiro Izumida (Jpn) 73 77, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa) 78 72, Yannik Paul (Ger) 77 73

151 (a) Charles Reiter 76 75, Danny Lee (Nzl) 76 75, Harry Hall (Eng) 74 77, (a) Laird Shepherd (Eng) 75 76, Phil Mickelson 78 73, Richard Mansell (Eng) 77 74, Thorbjoern Olesen (Den) 75 76

152 (a) Fred Biondi (Bra) 79 73, (a) Nick Dunlap 78 74, Tomoyasu Sugiyama (Jpn) 74 78

153 (a) Ben Lorenz 77 76, Fran Quinn 76 77, Jinichiro Kozuma (Jpn) 76 77, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 74 79

154 Isaiah Salinda 79 75, Jesse Mueller 80 74

156 Jediah Morgan (Aus) 82 74, Luke Gannon 76 80

157 (a) Caleb Manuel 83 74, Marcel Schneider (Ger) 78 79

158 Sean Crocker 83 75, Sean Jacklin (Sco) 78 80

164 Keith Greene 83 81

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times